In today’s digitally driven era, consistent Wi-Fi access is essential for life as a college student, whether researching sources in the library’s online database, writing papers in a cloud-backed server, or uploading assignments onto Canvas for turn-in. As such, interruptions to Wi-Fi can be both annoying and anxiety-inducing. Over the Fall 2023 semester, Rollins was no stranger to Wi-Fi issues.
These issues became apparent starting in October. On Oct. 19, Rollins’ IT department sent out an email stating that there would be a 4-hour long intermittent Wi-Fi outage from 10:00 p.m. until 2:00 a.m. This meant that if a student were to have an assignment due at 11:59 p.m., they had to accommodate to ensure they could submit the assignment before they outage; since it was intermittent, there was no way of telling whether the Wi-Fi would be off for the entire period or parts of it.
In the weeks leading up to this outage, Rollins students had been struggling to keep connected to the school Wi-Fi. Countless emails were sent out about more outages, in which Rollins’ IT department expressed difficulty in fixing the ongoing issue.
Rollins partners with a well-known network provider called Aruba. According to their website, “Aruba has repeatedly been recognized by third party analysts as a leader in Wi-Fi.” Aruba is a well-established company with over 20 years in the industry who works with renowned corporations and organizations.
Nothing is perfect, however, and neither is Aruba Networks’ Wi-Fi here at Rollins. The wireless system that Rollins was using was due for a large upgrade in December, according to an interview done with Troy Thomason, chief information officer of Rollins’ IT department. This upgrade was planned for the holiday break to avoid disruption of ongoing activities during the semester. However, this plan backfired as the system needed an upgrade sooner than expected. According to Thomason, the Wi-Fi system caught a bug which prompted it to need an upgrade earlier than December.
As emphasized by Thomason, bugs are not something that can typically be anticipated, nor prevented—especially on a school campus with such a large amount of people using them. When asked about the effect of the campus’ growing student body on the system, Thomason denied the possibility that the influx of new students could have been a part of the issue.
While interviewing Thomason, he stated that over 100 reports were made to the IT desk during the Wi-Fi outages, and while that number of people experiencing outages was likely higher due to a lack of people reporting the issue. Troy encouraged that people should always call the IT help desk so that the department can be made fully aware of situations like this and get a scope on how in-depth of an issue this is to make the proper accommodation.
Thomason also stated that during the prominent Wi-Fi outage on the night of Oct. 19, those who called about having an academic related issue such as turning an assignment in were provided with an ethernet cable. Because the issue was with the wireless system, an ethernet cable can provide a network for those who need it. Thomason noted that the Olin Library was open until midnight with working computers for those who did not call in for a cable.
Regarding the handling of the situation, Thomason stated that the team was working around the clock and were staying well past their usual business hours to make sure that these issues were being resolved as quickly as possible. When they were notified of the issues, the department contacted Aruba; after running adequate tests, they concluded Rollins’ wireless system needed an upgrade. These kinds of upgrades can take hours to finish, which is why the Oct. 19 outage spanned from 10:00 p.m. until 2:00 a.m. The nighttime period aimed to avoid interference with classes while accounting for any possible failures that the upgrade may have.
Thomason said that after they upgraded the system, not many calls about Wi-Fi issues had been reported; however, he reiterated that students should call the help desk if they experience any issues. He noted that oftentimes, students do not report issues because “it’s happening to others so they will report it,” which can lead to extended periods of outages if IT is not aware.
Wi-Fi issues struck again during finals week. IT acknowledged the reported issues in a campus-wide alert email sent on Dec. 7: “Intermittent Wi-Fi disruptions have been reported across campus. We know how crucial Wi-Fi is, especially during finals week, and we are working as quickly as possible with our vendors to restore the service.”
In a follow-up email on Dec. 12, Thomason apologized for the inconvenience caused by these disruptions and noted that the IT staff would collaborate with their external providers to do a full-scale review of Rollins’ wireless infrastructure over Winter Break.