JC Spotlight: Internet on Campus

- Priyanka Perumalla, Rohitt Vashishtha, Lipi Patnai , Journal Club

2017-02-18

Technical

At BPHC, it is possible for us to live without food for a day, but not without internet, even for an hour. From Facebook and club/department work to accessing academic and professional resources, our lives on campus depend heavily on the internet. It being so crucial to everything we do, any disruption in the net service or speed is bound to cause an uproar and rightly so. Though complaints about the net speed have reduced greatly (particularly after the forming of the IPC Student Nucleus), JC Spotlight intended to cover the campus internet scenario so that all students know of all possible perspectives about it. This was done so that the students could take an informed and mature course of action if some problem arises in future.


Chronology


Here is a quick chronology of events before we go into the details:
It was 2014. Modi had just been elected Prime Minister. Those were the times when half of the present campus crowd was studying for their entrance exams. The campus internet speeds were agreeable to everyone. Net wasn’t as good as one would have access to at home. Yet, it was agreeable. Those who wanted large file downloads used to do it early in mornings. Problems in speed started in second semester of 2014-15. A few discussions ensued in FEG and it ended there. In the first semester of 2015-16, however, the speed fell to new lows. Everyone on campus mailed the IPC office at least once, leading to IPC, in consultation with Student Representatives (nominated by the then Student Union), introducing a data cap of 800 MB per student per day. The idea behind the introduction of the cap was to ensure that a minority of users don’t eat up most of the bandwidth. Following an uproar on FEG and Shoutboxx, however, the cap was removed. Rather, an 800 MB per download cap was introduced. Slow net still ensued though.
In February 2016, a new internet policy was adopted, with a 2 GB data cap per person per day. Since the cap was within the acceptable range of most, it wasn’t contested.


Current Scenario


The campus has a total of 490 Mbps bandwidth. Of this, 90 Mbps is allocated to ACAD Block and the remaining is used by the rest of the campus. As of the date of publication of this piece, no bhavan-wise individual allocation was in place. The data cap is 2 GB per user per day. From 5 days before the major examinations (T1, T2 and Compre), the cap is raised to 5 GB per day.


The Truths and Myths of slow net:


What changed between 2014 and now?


Honestly, we couldn’t come to a conclusion as to what really changed. The average daily consumption of the whole campus for the month of September 2016 was 2500 GB per day. It means that not everyone exhausts their data cap. Yet, one of the many possible ways of explaining the difference between 2014 and now could be that, given we are growing technically and culturally by the semester, our data needs have been increasing at a rate faster than the rate at which bandwidth was being added. We don’t have consumption data of 2014 to test this hypothesis though. There could be other reasons too.


The Cost Factor


Getting extra bandwidth at our campus is quite different from getting it at our homes. In the urban and suburban parts of the city, the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) will have a dense network of optic fibres. Therefore, if we take a new connection, all he will have to do is add a small extension from the optic fibre from the road to our bedroom. But when new bandwidth is added at our campus given all the existing optic fibres are in full use, it costs a lot more because the line has to be laid from campus to the nearest beam line (which is kilometers away).


Bandwidth vs. Latency


In reality, bandwidth (though important) is not the only factor that determines the speed of the net. Another significant factor affecting speed is Latency. Latency is the delay in response of the website.
Here’s a crude analogy. 100 persons are to start at main gate and get into F108 as soon as possible. Two factors determine the rate at which they will enter F108. One, the speed at which they can run. Two, even if everyone runs at their peak speed and reach the door at the same time, they will have to queue up to get in. And this queue length depends on the width of the door. Here, the time it takes to reach the door is equivalent to latency. And the width of the door is equivalent to the bandwidth.
Therefore, only high bandwidth may not always ensure speed. The latency (time lag) should also be low. And this latency varies from one website to another and depends on varied hardware factors like your laptop, the website servers, the router etc.


Then why the Data Cap?


According to Aditya Krishna (2014 batch), student representative (who was nominated by the then SU, not to be confused with IPC Nucleus), the 2 GB figure was arbitrary. It wasn’t based on the data consumption statistics or optimization of data consumption. Rather, a blunt attempt to enforce a cap. The only rationale for the cap was a conviction that a minority of users eat into the bandwidth.


Cyberoam and Load Balancers


Many a times, it has been suggested that there could be a bad configuration of the Cyberoam. According to Aditya Krishna, when he talked about this to the IPC faculty, “he [said] that hiring people for the amount they are hired here, this is probably the best level of expertise you can expect here.”

The National Knowledge Network


The NKN is a government-run multi-gigabit network which specifically serves the educational and research institutions of the country. BITS-Pilani, as a university, is included in this network and gets a bandwidth of 10 Gbps. Of this, 150 Mbps is allocated to internet use and the remaining for resources like NPTEL. Sreekar Chigurupati (2014 batch) contacted Prof. Chittaranjan Hota in regard to this in 2015. According to Prof. Hota, because of some architectural issues, the NKN line cannot be shared with the Hyderabad campus. And BPHC cannot request for a separate line for itself as we are not a separate university from BITS-Pilani.


Going the Ethernet way


A good part of our daily consumption is Facebook. And it’s primarily used to communicate with people within the campus. Yet, the data has to go all the way to Fb servers and come back. Something similar happens with downloads (though not in large scale, thanks to DC). A Linux Repository has been created on our campus’ servers (Courtesy: Siddhanth Kumar Patel and Srimanta Barua) so that multiple people need not download the same update from net and waste their data. An initiative was taken in the year 2015 by Nischay Mamidi and Rohitt Vashishtha (both 2015 batch) to make FEG and Shoutboxx posts accessible through Ethernet, so that multiple persons needn’t load these groups. However, it didn’t click. According to the current Internet Policy, Facebook, Gmail, YouTube, and Wikipedia are given partiality for the speed.


Conclusion


The internet speed is satisfactory now, especially after the constitution of student representation in form of the IPC Student Nucleus. Some volatility is observed now and then, but given the number of users, that is expected. JC Spotlight nevertheless covered this issue for the sake that you get a presentation of all the discussions and perspectives on it and in case of any issue in the future, you have most of the facts at your disposal.
Some changes are still in requirement for optimal internet usage. These include making use of intranet instead of internet wherever possible and statistics based data cap. And the work is hopefully in progress. The principle problem till last semester, according to Saivivek Peddi (IPC Nucleus), was that IPC couldn’t understand the student requirements. Given the Student nucleus, dialogue with IPC is easier now.


Note: Mbps in the current article means “Megabits per second”. Same goes for Gbps.


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