Yesterday my Big Data class went on a field trip to see the internet at Bennington. First, I should explain that the class is all about the massive amounts of data that comes from the internet, how we manage it, what we use it for, and how to use it. So, as part of our class we got to tour the internet at Bennington. I (with the help of Ben B-P) took some pictures, which are low quality because they are from my cell phone.
Our field trip entailed five stops. First, to the library where we learned about how their database of books works. From there we went to downcommons where the phone system is housed and where the fiber optic cable for the internet arrives to campus.
(the old phone system)
The phone system that we have currently is pretty old and consists of thousands of tiny copper wires, one for each phone. Currently, the IT department is in the process of converting out our old phone system from all of those copper wires into several small boxes that simplify the system.
After checking out the phone system we moved one room over to see where the fiber optic cable enters the campus system so it can be used. It is just a tiny yellow wire and it is mind-blowing that it supplies the whole campus with internet. However, before we, the internet users on campus, can use the internet it is re-routed to Dickinson, our science building, where our servers are located.
(that tiny yellow wire on the right is where the magic begins)
One neat thing that was pointed out when we were looking at the converted rooms in downcommons is that these rooms tell the story of how communications has evolved over the years, and it also tells the history of the college and how we have had to innovate and adapt the technology to fit our needs.
Naturally, we progressed to the Dickinson Server Room which was built a little over a year ago. The sever room was built to be a server room the room is really energy efficient because that efficiency is a huge issue in the big data world.
Inside the room are eight big cabinets that house all of our campus servers, some of the animation render farm, and many other things. A lot of the room is devoted to making sure we have backups of important information and power controls to prevent the machines from harm if the power were to surge. I was not prepared for how loud the servers would be, you had to yell when trying to talk.
Another neat thing about that room is that we got to “meet” the servers that each of us get for storage during the course of this class. Due to the nature of the data sets we are working with in this course we need to have a lot of space. The coolest part about our servers is that our teacher, Andrew Cencini, helped design them, so he is extremely knowledgeable about them. The servers are living out their retirement here on campus as they are old servers from Yahoo, Bing, and Facebook. The Facebook ones were part of the original servers that Facebook bought when the expanded. Which, the nerd part of me, thinks is pretty darn cool.
After leaving the server room in Dickinson we walked over to CAPA where a new internet connection will eventually be set up. There is a federal grant that is providing a new fiber optic cable to be run from Boston to Burlington and then to us. The goal of the grant is to provide internet access to rural areas and schools. The cable will come onto campus near CAPA and then will enter CAPA through a hole in the wall down in the basement of the building. This is all supposed to happen starting this fall and I’m sure that our class will be updated as to its progress.
Our final destination was near the Secret Garden up by Jennings which is where the fiber optic cable (which hang on telephone poles) enters the campus. We then followed it until it went underground until it reaches downcommons.
So, it took us a little over two hours to see what happens in milliseconds. Pretty astounding and most definitely cooler then Connor Prarie, the working Pioneer village where all of my other field trips seemingly took place.