Macintoshes in Reed College's Campuswide Ethernet Network

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Macintoshes in Reed College's Campuswide Ethernet Network

Installing a campuswide computer network requires substantial technical expertise and a major initial capital outlay, as well as a commitment to provide for large, ongoing operational costs. Even at a relatively small and simple site like Reed College, a campus with seven academic buildings on less than 60 acres, the morass of issues surrounding campuswide networking is enough to give one pause.

At Reed we raised the subject of campuswide networking in the context of much broader questions about how to effectively integrate computing into higher education, particularly the liberal arts. In 1983 we began to assess the state of computer technology in academia. After watching the adventures of several other schools and observing the influx of increasingly jumbled technology at Reed, it became clear that computers were finding their way into higher education: We could either control the process or we could let it happen to us.

We thus entered a rather introspective planning phase during which we developed the guiding principles for integratng computers into Reed's education mission. We knew that Reed required a unified solution to current and future computing needs rather than incremental improvements to existing resources. These computing resources were to be provided in a way that would enhance Reed's traditional curriculum. In addition, we decided early on that computers should be readily available to everyone at Reed, not just to those in traditionally computer-intensive disciplines. A related goal was to combat the threat of increasing user isolation as computers became accessible throughout the campus.

Why install a campuswide computer network" Clearly, networking and communications promised to reinforce our broader goals to integrate computers in a controlled, unified fashion that would make technology available to everyone and would counter any tendency to isolate users. These principles were operationalized in a document we titled Five-Year Master Plan for Computer Resources at Reeed College. The network was a key component of the master plan, as was the wide deployment of Macintosh personal computers, establishment of maintenance and support organizations, library automation and a software development initiative. Each ingredient of the unified plan would support and enhance the others.

The master plan called for a "running water" network that users could tap into in order to access various services--printing, file storage, mainframe communications and library searches, for example. The appropriate network hardware would involve a tri-level scheme with powerful mainframes at the top level of complexity, departmental computers at the mid-level, and a fleet of personal computers to handle individual tasks. The mainframe level would be used primarily for large-scale statistical analyses and other computationally intensive tasks. Departmental computers would be multi-user systems specifically suited to the computer tasks within a particular--an art department computer would probably have different functionality than a biology department computer. With the tri-level network, uses would, ideally, choose the computer most suited for the particular task at hand, thus optimizing the available resources.

Picking LAN and Microcomputer Standards

A host of conceptual and technical questions had to be settled before we were able to decide on the specific network configuration. The tri-level network plan offered some guidance, but the scheme was intentionally non-specific so as to provide flexibility in the face of rapidly changing technology. For instance, it was clear from the start that the Ethernet standard was the network technology of choice. However, it was not until 1986 that some of the technical issues surrounding fiber-optics were sufficiently resolved for it to be a sensible network backbone. …