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Brick by Brick: Keeping UB Connected

Telecommunications Engineer Matt Marino, Project Manager Leslie Evans and Network Engineer Mike Sparkes review floor plans.

Published March 4, 2013

By Diana Tuorto, dianatuo@buffalo.edu

We take so much for granted. We walk into UB buildings and make phone calls, receive texts, use the Internet and watch presentations without concern for the underlying technology. It couldn’t happen were it not for the dedicated team of CIT engineers, project managers and technicians working behind the scenes.

This team takes on the worries for us. Working close with each UB school, procurement agents, construction managers, consultants and vendors, the team ensures that each upgrade to a current building will include technology to handle the growing needs of faculty, staff and students.  This work is often completed under strict deadlines that span multiple years, and various phases.

Typically the CIT team is called to the planning table by UB’s Facilities Planning and Design group to help design and install IT infrastructure and all related AV (audio/visual) needs. Among their tasks, the team is responsible for planning cable and wiring for phone and Internet service. “Our goal is to provide a state of the art network, offering the fastest possible access to faculty and staff offices, classrooms, lecture halls and labs,” said Leslie Evans, UB Project Manager.

“CIT is involved with each UB SUNY construction project from the start,” said Mike Sparkes, UB Network Engineer. “Our projects typically take three to four years to complete. We ensure that the cable infrastructure is correct and that plans meet both UB and industry standards before projects go out for bid.”

Take, for example, two recent projects: Kapoor Hall on South Campus and the construction of the Clinical and Translational Research Center (CTRC) downtown. The CTRC just opened in September 2012, but initial design and input from CIT started back in October 2008.

“The CTRC is shared space with Kaleida Health, so we were challenged to have two different networks work seamlessly together, as people move around,” said Matt Marino, UB Telecommunications Engineer. “The CTRC makes use of a Distributed Antenna System (DAS), which allows Verizon Wireless and other cell carriers to provide excellent wireless coverage throughout the building.”

In Kapoor Hall, there was already some level of Wi-Fi, but plenty of room for improvement. “The building was literally gutted down to the steel frame and concrete,” Mike added. “New building networks are connected to UB’s backbone network at 10 Gigabits per second, increasing the speed ten times over previous deployments. In addition, the new Category 6A cabling infrastructure can handle 10 Gigabits per second to the desktop.”

The Clinical and Translational Research Center in downtown Buffalo. (Photo by K.C. Kratt Photography)

The CIT team also recently assisted in the IT infrastructure planning and design of the Crossroads Culinary Center and Greiner Hall on North Campus, and the Gateway Building in downtown Buffalo, but there’s always more in progress.

“Our next large project is the Educational Opportunity Center (EOC), which is downtown and expected to open in June,” said Mike. “I’m responsible for reviewing the bid documents pertaining to electrical fit-out and cabling. Every detail needs to be carefully looked at, so I’m often on conference calls, WebEx meetings, or physically on site. While in-person meetings are the most time consuming, they’re the most productive since the architect and engineers are there to answer questions at the same time. I confer with engineers on a number of design issues, down to ensuring phone lines run to the building’s fire alarm and elevators.”

“I wear many hats on a project,” Matt added. “I meet with vendors who’ve bid on projects to give them an idea of what needs to be built. I also help figure out how to tap into an existing network, which might involve digging up sidewalks and streets to lay cable and conduit. If there’s going to be an outage, it’s also on me to coordinate notifications to anyone affected.”

While the CTRC opened in September 2012, the team’s work on the project isn’t quite over. “Our involvement doesn’t end once the buildings are open,” added Leslie. “After move-in, more network coverage may be needed in a certain area, and locations for staff and resources often shift.”

It’s easy to take technology for granted, but next time you step into a UB building, think about all the people and resources that help to keep you connected. “It's very rewarding to know you’ve played a small role in a University project that enhances continued learning and research for students and faculty for years to come,” Leslie added.

“You only get one chance to get it right in a new building,” Tom Furlani, UB’s Interim Chief Information Officer said. “Given the ever increasing role that information technology plays in education, research, and core UB’s business operations, it’s crucial that each buildings IT infrastructure is properly designed from the outset to support these activities. UB is very fortunate to have such a talented and dedicated group of IT professionals working behind the scenes, unheralded, to ensure our university’s IT infrastructure will serve us well to meet the challenges of the future.”