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My PC didn't do that before
| Major technology upgrades are coming to a McGill workstation near you.
But don't expect a fancy new computer or flashy phone on your desk by tomorrow morning. The sweeping change that's coming will be provided through new computer connections and technology in the wiring in office walls.
While the prospect of infrastructure upgrades might not seem so sexy now, just wait until the new system is up and running. Come September, the first phase of the project will be completed and McGill's nearly 10,000 workstations will eventually be linked through the same web-based server.
What this means is that by March 2001, or the end of the project's second phase, McGill's phones and PCs will be capable of being fully converged. That feat will be accomplished using AVVID technology, or Architecture for Voice Video and Integrated Data, a medium that can integrate voice, video or computer communications over a single network.
For the average staff or faculty computer user, for instance, the new system will allow them to jazz up e-mails by attaching voice messages, something unheard of through the previously text-based communication device.
Information sent over McGill's new network will also travel at faster speeds: from a high of 100 megabits per second on newer computers to a minimum of 10 megabits per second on older models. This added speed is what will permit video images to be coupled onto PCs for the much ballyhooed videoconferencing of the future.
The precious few who have experienced videoconferencing will be pleased to note that McGill's future network will allow inter-campus images and sound to be disseminated with crystal clarity. Jumps, delays and static in projection or sound will be a thing of the past.
"The image will be smooth, not jerky, as people who have tried videoconferencing have probably experienced," explains Gary Bernstein, acting director of McGill's Computing Centre and director of McGill Telecom, who is overseeing the technology transition.
Having a central computer system capable of carrying video images as easily as text will also offer tremendous possibilities for the McGill community, the first and most important change being the system's potential for more personalized communication.
"With this new technology," says Bernstein, "we can actually contemplate having the principal give occasional live speeches to faculty and staff through their desktops, or having a concert from the music building seen live through a PC or from a databank."
The main hardware required for the new network was purchased for $4.2 million from California-based Cisco Systems Inc., the giant Internet equipment manufacturer better known for its high-stakes, cyber-supremacy duel with the almighty Microsoft Corporation. McGill has been a long-time client of Cisco, since the enterprise's entry into the Canadian market in 1992, and has obtained an educational rate for its Cisco purchase.
The initiative is partially funded through a grant from the Canada Foundation for Innovation.
"What's great about the equipment McGill has bought from Cisco is that it's so feature rich that it will remain (current) not only now, but for years and years to come," says Marc Prince, national sales manager for Cisco Systems Canada Corp. "It's also a network that will integrate many options seamlessly and potentially save the University a considerable amount of money."
Those monetary savings will come, eventually, when McGill decides to drop its regional phone carrier and go fully web-based. "McGill could do that today," says Prince, "but the University is being somewhat conservative, preferring to test the system's functions before."
To ensure the upgraded network offers maximum reliability, McGill is also spending an additional $1 million on new wiring and cable filters, which explains why wires will be pulled like snakes from walls and computer jacks over the summer.
"With all that McGill is investing in this project, PC users can expect extraordinary reliability," says Bernstein. "But the best part about this new infrastructure is that it will enable people to do things with their computers that were impossible before."