Universiteit Leiden

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A call about: project Return to the campus

In this time of Covid-19, our way of working has changed. Many staff who used to work on a PC, and who now work from home with a laptop provided by the employer, are now returning to the office and this is having an impact on the university network: the WiFi network in particular will be a bottleneck. What is needed to improve the ICT infrastructure with a view to staff and students – IT users – returning to the campus? We asked Rolf Woestenburg, project leader for Infra and Workspaces at the ISSC.

What have you been doing this summer?

‘We started the project Return to the campus just before the summer. Our assignment was to make an inventory of what is needed to improve the ICT infrastructure. How do we address this? Of course, the solution is to improve the WiFi network to give beter coverage and more capacity. Our current WiFi is equipped for normal data usage, such as visiting websites and sending emails – and this worked relatively well, but is less suitable for the use we are making of it now, with streaming protocols such as video calls.'

'Moreover, there is a process underway to make more flexible use of staff workplaces: in some locations where previously desktop PCs were used, the trend is towards a more mobile way of working, using a laptop. This means that workplaces will be organised differently and that we expect there to be fewer PCs in the office areas. Increasingly, we are connecting or docking in to our workplaces via a laptop WiFi adaptor but also wired, via the port replicator. But that, too, presents a challenge: how do we do so securely? I’ll give an example. When someone connects to the network, it is important to know which security measures need to be in place; these will differ depending on whether it is a managed or a semi managed laptop or a personal device (BYOD, ‘bring your own device’). We are currently investigating how to operate this securely, using a nework authentication protocol.'

Does this also apply to online education?
Hybrid teaching will also be necessary in the coming period. For instance: where will students go online to follow classes, if the one lecture they have is on the campus and their next lecture is a hybrid session? Also, students use their own phones and laptops for wireless connections, so the use of services via the WiFi on campus is also expected to grow for this user group, and this too will require more capacity. It is quite a complicated puzzle. And there is no one magic single solution.'

How has the project been going?

'Why didn’t we start preparing sooner, you may ask? Yes, we should have started earlier; we knew that at some stage people would return to the office. We have devoted a lot of time to creating an overview of the current bottlenecks. This involved a substantial inventory process to establish the WiFi quality in each building and the wiring that is at the basis of the network. What plans are there for maintenance? Can we perhaps make use of maintenance work or renovations to improve the WiFi network at the same time? Moreover, to get the most efficient WiFi, it is best to remove the old WiFi networks, where possible, as this will improve the bandwidth. Ultimately, we want one WiFi network that works at full capacity.'

When will it be ready?
'We are working on several trajectories. In terms of installing improved WiFi in the buildings, we anticipate that this will take until next year because we need to plan and implement it for each university building. In the meantime, we are working on the alternative of the port replicator. Work on this has started and we are going to do the measurements and will soon scale up; we expect to be ready by the end of this year, provided the necessary components are available.'

What did not go as expected?
'It did not help that there is a lack of stock. The delivery time is very long for components for infrastructure such as access points and switches: we have ordered them, but due to the shortages of chips on the global market we have to wait longer than expected, possibly four months. Still, I really like this challenge. I like complicated puzzles; we are going to get this done. Our only problem is time: the project consists of very many different paths of action.'

Do you have any tips for us as we return to the office?

  1. If you return to the office with your laptop and you find the Wifi is not optimal, then use a workplace with a desktop PC. In that way, you relieve the Wifi network.
  2. If you are at the office with your colleagues, spread around the department perhaps, and you wish to meet: try to reserve a meeting room and meet there instead of via Teams. That too, will relieve the WiFi network.
  3. And, although perhaps it is self-evident: prepare yourself and discuss with each other about returning to the office, make clear agreements about this.
  4. Finally: be sure to update your laptop on time!
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