September 2006

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We’re now at the end of our first week of ResNet for 06/07 and we have 700 people, mainly overseas students, hooked up already. Now comes the real challenge.

This weekend most of the Freshers move in. If that’s you, everything should be ready for you. ResNet packs are available in your hall or house – either already in your room, or ask your senior resident, hall office, or porters.

If you asked for a visit to connect you to ResNet we’ve sent you a letter to your hall/house with the contact details for the person who will visit you – please phone them to make an appointment.

Most people can get themselves sorted on ResNet by following the instructions in your packs. If you have any problems, please have a look at the troubleshooting guide (stapled at the back of your how to connect guide). Our help desk isn’t open over the weekend, but will be open 2pm-8pm Mon-Fri every week for the rest of term.

Have a look at ResNet uptake stats if you’re really interested to see live how many people are successfully connected to ResNet.

This is a very long post about a serious problem but which will only be of interest to about thirty students in one student house. If that’s not you, please look further down the blog for fun with Jaffa cakes.

The University owns Hillside/Woodside, a student house with about thirty residents. It’s in Leigh Woods on the far side of the suspension bridge – a beautiful but out of the way location.

Once upon a time we provided a dialup service for the students living there (and in a few other small University-owned student houses). As nobody wants dialup any more we got rid of the dialup service a year ago, and put a dedicated link in to just about all the small student houses so we could provide the normal ResNet service.

Hillside/Woodside was always going to be tricky due to its location and distance from everywhere else. We looked at all sorts of possibilities, such as wireless, but they didn’t work out. We put in a phone line and ADSL link to replace the dialup. This worked, but not very well – 30 students on one ADSL line wasn’t great, although we tried all sorts of ideas to improve the connection it ultimately wasn’t fast or reliable enough.

This year we decided the only solution was to put in a dedicated 10Mbit leased line to link Hillside/Woodside back to the main site. That way we could provide ResNet as available everywhere ele. A leased line is much faster and more reliable than an ADSL connection. It is also hugely more expensive 🙁

The University starts a new financial year in August and in August we had found the money to do it. We then realised that it can take months to get this sort of leased line installed, and it wouldn’t be quite ready for the start of term, but we hoped it would be soon afterwards.

Just recently the final survey was carried out by our supplier before the work could take place. This uncovered a few problems – the leased line can’t be routed to the exchange in Clifton as had been thought. Instead we need an even more expensive leased line across two phone exchanges 🙁

We’ve now ordered the leased line we really need. Unfortunately this has delayed us further. Given the first delay we’re trying to get it pushed through by our supplier faster than normal, but there are no guarantees. When it is in place we should be fine, but we have a problem until then.

We are now looking at interim solutions – resurrecting the ADSL connection from last year, which wasn’t great but is better than nothing. We won’t charge residents at Hillside/Woodside anything for using the ADSL line, and start collecting ResNet subscriptions only when we have the proper service in place. We’ll keep everyone in the house informed as to what’s going on, and hope to have the ADSL service up real soon now.

We’d like to say that we’re really sorry to the students at Hillside/Woodside. We’re really sorry. When you are away from home at uni an Internet connection is pretty important for keeping in touch. There are other facilities available – the nearest is probably the computer room and cybercafe in the students union, and you can use the wireless hotspots with your own laptop on campus – but obviously it’s not the same as a connection in your own room.

About the best we can say is we’re working on it and doing what we can.

UPDATE 05/10/06: We have now ordered the ADSL service for Hillside/Woodside. Will keep this updated with news as to when it will be available.

UPDATE 10/10/06: Looks as if it should be in by about 19th/20th October.

The ResNet service in accommodation at the Vet School, Langford was interrupted for some 25 minutes around 11am this morning. This was due to a problem which actually affected the whole Langford site, not just ResNet there. Service is now ok.

Nobody is using ResNet at Langford this week anyway so no harm done 🙂

We took a short break from preparing for the start of term today, just long enough to conduct some serious scientific research into one of lifes most important questions. Namely – “Who makes the best Jaffa Cakes?”

We staged a blind taste test of 5 brands of Jaffa Cake, and a decent sized sample of tasters assembled from ResNet staff.

During the taste test, one person forgot to vote and Nick was disqualified from voting (He bought the Jaffa Cakes, and as he knew which was which it didn’t seem fair to let him vote!) So the total sample size was 10 people.

We asked our testers two questions, “Which one is the genuine McVities?” and “Which is your favourite?” Somewhat surprisingly, there was a clear winner!

As no scientific research is complete without a graph, we plugged the results into Excel…

Jaffa Cake Taste Test Results

Key:

  1. Tesco Value
  2. Tesco Standard (With Real Fruit Juice!)
  3. McVities
  4. Sainsburys Basics
  5. Sainsburys Standard (With Real Fruit Juice!)
Jaffa cake taste test

ResNet Chat is something new we’ve come up with that lets you chat to people in your hall and elsewhere on ResNet. There are chatrooms for your hall or house, or you can add your friends as private contacts, see when they are online and message them. It’s an instant messaging program (like MSN Messenger), but especially for the community of Bristol students. There are chatrooms for each hall, and a special Orbital (students out of hall) room for the student houses. Think of your chatroom as the online equivalent of your hall bar (though sadly without the cheap beer!).

If you are a new student unfortunately you can’t use ResNet chat until you are given your UOB username and password – these are dished out for most people as part of registration on Tuesday of Freshers Week.

Tech bit: ResNet chat is a customised version of Pandion and uses the Jabber / XMPP protocol.

Some students moved in at the weekend, (especially overseas students at Unite House, Chantry Court, Deans Court and Woodland Court) so today is the first full day people have been hooking up to ResNet.
At time of writing we have 172 people successfully connected, and over 2000 application forms processed. For the latest figures live have a peak at ResNet uptake stats if you want.

If you are having problems connecting to ResNet please phone our tech people on our ResNet Help Desk number – 89001 free of charge from the phone in your room. We have a team of people answering the phone but it does get busy, especially for the first half hour or so after we open at 2pm – if you don’t get through at first please keep trying and you will get through later.

The ResNet service for the new year is now ready. Please ask your hall office, porters lodge or senior resident for your pack (contains cable, CD and instructions). Then follow the instructions in your pack to connect.

To pay for ResNet, you can either send us an application form with a cheque, or visit to pay in person by cash or credit card. You can connect to ResNet before paying, and use ResNet for a seven day free trial.

We’ve had a few problems with the ResNet service at Rodney Place over the summer vacation. It’s been up and down pretty frequently. We’re very sorry about the problems. Fortunately there are only a few people living there over the summer, and it won’t be full during term time either – but that’s not much help for those who are affected.

We’ve got the service up and running again today. We’ve made some changes which we think will make it more reliable in future, but will keep an eye on it and see how things work out in practice. That’s probably all you need to know – but if you’re interested in the details please read on.

The University has its own trench with copper phone cabling to Rodney Place. We provide ResNet to Rodney Place by using one of those cables for a private ADSL circuit. We use the same equipment for some of the other student houses and it works well, but at Rodney Place the distance is just a bit further.

Today we’ve replaced some of the phone cabling with higher quality network cabling wherever it is accessible and resoldered various joins along the route. We’ve also installed some equipment which will automatically give the equipment a kick if it develops a problem. Initial indications from testing the new setup are good, but we’ll have to see how it is over time. If residents at Rodney Place encounter any problems, please contact the ResNet help desk.

We now have four webcaches for ResNet users, including two brand new systems. We now have more caches than before, and they are running on faster boxes. Also they are split across two separate locations, so should be available even if there is a problem at our main site. Huge thanks to Martin, Squid guru of the PC Systems team for setting up the caches for us.

What do the webcaches do? When you request a webpage your web browser checks to see if the webcache has a copy, and if so gets it from a fast server here at Bristol. If it doesn’t it stores a copy on the webcache for future use. There is 600GB of storage available across the four caches.

By using the webcaches we can also reserve network capacity (bandwidth) for web browsing. Along with email web browsing is the most important and popular facility on the Internet. Other bandwidth on ResNet is shared between gaming, file transfers, radio, instant messaging, etc etc, and is limited both per person and for the whole of ResNet. With dedicated email servers and webcaches for the University we can we hope to make sure you can always browse the web and send mail, even if you or your neighbours are hammering the network with huge transfers at the same time.

Tomorrow (19th September 2006) we will be moving the ResNet database to a much more powerful computer.
Cool … but why do I care? Well, that depends on who you are:

  • If you are a current ResNet user, the Manage my ResNet utility and the automatic status monitoring on our homepage will be unavailable for most of the day. Otherwise, your internet connection should be unaffected.
  • If you are a new ResNet user and need to pay us, we will be able to take your money, but we will not be able to switch on your account until after the database has been moved. Usually this would be instant.
  • If you are coming to Bristol for the new academic year, you will be able to register and setup your connection even faster. (At the start of the year, when 5000 people try to register their connection at the same time, the old database computer tended to get a bit stressed, hopefully the new one will not!).

1pm 19th Sept: the database upgrade has now been completed. The new system is much snappier than the old one, and should be good for the start of term. Thanks to the database guys for sorting this for us.

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