1. Overview

OUCS's Frodo project aims to provide secure, reliable, easily managed, and consistent network services to the "front door" of every University building. This includes buildings shared between several departments or colleges, annexes and remote sites.

2. The Problem

Previously to the Frodo project a fibre optic cable was laid to the unit (college or department) and the unit was then responsible for all equipment leading off the fibre optic cable. This gave a few problems:

  • The management of the optical fibre and the "raw" service required a certain degree of technical ability within each department/building with a connection. Sometimes the unit isn't willing to pay for this level of expertise or the skills required are too specialist for it to be cost effective to train the existing staff.
  • Many buildings have multiple occupants who don't wish to share their network with each other.
  • Some units are spread across multiple sites but would like to make their network look like one site. Specifically each building would need a firewall if it connected directly onto the university backbone.
  • It was far from straightforward monitor if the connection was "up" due to the wide variety of equipment at use within the remote sites.

3. The Solution

The solution was to create a standard hardware provision for the far side of the optical connection, to provide multiple network services right to the unit's "front door" (FroDo). This gives the advantages:

  • The unit's IT Officer has a much simpler installation to manage, with specific ports being bound to a specific service provision. The Frodo unit helps lower the requirement that the units IT officer has specific specialist knowledge in order to implement complex services.
  • Sites with multiple annexes that would normally connect onto the backbone directly with a firewall for each can have their network presented as one unit with a single firewall.
  • Troubleshooting is much easier, OUCS can remotely query the provided equipment to check for hardware errors and similar. The local IT Officers can describe changes in expected behaviors against the documented/expected service provision.
  • Differentiated services can be offered (OWL VPN/Visitor, Eduroam) without excessively complex per-site management. Changes or improvements can be implemented University-wide in a vastly smaller time period due to the common hardware at the far sites connection.
  • The connection health can easily be monitored. For this purpose an automated connectivity monitoring system has been set up and is currently in a testing phase. This monitors the health of each service port at the far site and the health of hardware such as the power supply, temperature and fans.
  • Services are provided over copper RJ45 connections rather than terminated fibre optics. This reduces singe points of failure which were present with media converters and sensitive fibre equipment.

4. Case Studies

Wolfson College:

"When Frodo was initially outlined to college and departmental IT staff, I couldn't see that any of the described features were applicable to Wolfson's usage, so I expected to be a late adopter of the system. However, with a new intake of students, there was a sudden rise in the requests for wireless access within the college. Looking at the possibilities it seemed that OWL would be the most useful for our members, in that one setup for them would work.

"The installation of the Frodo box went very well, with a site survey establishing just where the box would be located, followed by delivery of the cabinet and finally a visit from OUCS staff to install Frodo itself. All this was very efficient and happened with little fuss and only a few moments of downtime. The installation provides us with a new patch panel in our main networking rack.

"Getting wireless up and running was simply a case of requesting this from OUCS, configuring the College's network switches and wireless access points (with guidance from OUCS) and finally plugging a cable from one of our switches into the new Frodo patch panel. The OWL (and subsequently eduroam) wireless services worked immediately and have continued to work with very little intervention from Wolfson's IT Support Team."

5. Costs

Costings had to be estimated two years in advance for the University's procedures. The charge was put forward at 3,750 GBP per department. This covers:

  • Frodo switch unit (Cisco 3750)
  • Uninterruptible power supply system
  • Wall-mounted 19" rack-mount cabinet
  • Survey, fitting, and installation
  • On-going hardware and software maintenance

The University agreed to fund the above for the majority of its buildings. The Conference of Colleges was approached by OUCS in order to combine and simplify the charging to colleges. They agreed to the model on behalf of the colleges, for provision of one Frodo installation at each college main site and the "back-feed" of any current annexes' networks to that site.

OUCS-assisted services such as wireless or support for networked electricity meters are not charged for if delivered through a Frodo installation. The only minor additional charge is if the fibre optic cabling to the building has to be re-routed in order to accomodate the Frodo's permanent physical location in the building.

6. Timeline

The project was originally set in motion at the end of 2005/start of 2006. Since then roughly 10 Frodo units a month have been installed in units by OUCS's Network Control team (Geoff Lescott, Chris Burchell, Pierre Ramsay). Mounting of the wall cabinets was dealt with separately by a number of sub-contractors.

  • 3rd February 2006 - 21 installations
  • 9th October - 81 installations
  • 15th December 2006 - 100 installations
  • 5th April 2007 - 131 installations
  • 21st November 2007 - 169 installations
  • 28th February 2008 - 180 installations