BSM Expands Internet Bandwidth

Katie McClurg

Earlier this year, one of the most commonly noted problems at BSM was the Internet; either it was too slow, Web pages would freeze up, or sometimes the internet wouldn’t work at all, causing frustration among students and teachers. However, as of March 2, the BSM technology department found a way to relieve these Internet glitches by expanding BSM’s bandwidth. 
 
What were the Problems?
Bandwidth refers to the speed and capacity of information that can be processed at one time on the Internet.  The greater the bandwidth, the easier it is for content to be processed. “Bandwidth is like the size of the pipe that allows the information to flow back and forth,” said BSM technology director Steve Pohlen. 
Due to the increasing amount of bandwidth needed to handle the content on today’s web pages–which often include content like audio and video–BSM had been regularly maxing out its bandwidth. “One of the thing’s that’s been exponentially happening over the last four or five years, or forever since the Internet’s been in existence, is that more and more content is requiring a lot of bandwidth,” said Pohlen.

Part of the problem was that multiple people were competing for the relatively limited bandwidth space, in a sense clogging up BSM’s Internet. “If somebody for instance is streaming the video, and they got there first, they’re going to slow down [the Internet] and then somebody else might not be able to get on or [the Internet] will be so slow that you’ll think it’s down completely,” said Pohlen. 

The Role of the Content Filter
Though most of the blame for BSM’s Internet woes has been attributed to the size of the bandwidth, there were other contributing factors. “One of the things people don’t realize that there are multiple pieces to the system, and if any one of those things doesn’t work, then it stops things,” said Pohlen.  

The Barracuda  Web filter, BSM’s content filter, was the other main reason the Internet would slow down or freeze up completely. “The content filter can only take so many things at a time. When we [expanded] the bandwidth we also had to add a bigger content filter so that it could take more requests at a time,” said Pohlen. The upgraded content filter is now able to handle thousands of requests at a time, instead of only hundreds before. 

With the expansion of the bandwidth and the content filter, the technology department is beginning to unblock some of the Web sites that were blocked due to their high bandwidth requirements. “Part of the reason why certain sites have been blocked is because the Web site was streaming video from the start, so if we allowed sites like that, nobody else would have been able to do anything,” said Pohlen.

The technology department is continuing to unblock sites with high bandwidth-requiring content that serve educational purposes, and is happy to hear teacher suggestions. “We’re much more willing to start opening things up quite a bit.  Anything that a teacher said they wanted unblocked, we unblocked if it was legitimate,” said Pohlen. 
 

The Expansion
Before the expansion, the size of BSM’s bandwidth was only 22 megabits per second.  But, to keep up with the school’s increasing Internet needs, the technology department added 50 megabits to the bandwidth.  “Right now we’re at 72 megabits per second, so we’ve more than tripled our bandwidth just during the school year,” said Pohlen. 

Part of the reason the expansion didn’t occur earlier was because the technology department had to get funding in order, dealing with expensive contracts with the (then) current internet provider, which was costing BSM about $1000 a month for three megabits.  Now BSM is paying only $200 a month for 50 megabits, and is continuing to look for better deals for the future.  

The technology department also had considered partnering with St. Louis Park in order to use their fiber lines, which are far more easily expandable than the cable lines BSM has been using. “We just got a quote from St. Louis Park. They’re interested in partnering with people. The fiber line is close by, but it’s too expensive at this point,” said Pohlen.

The technology department hopes to closely monitor BSM’s bandwidth needs so that BSM will never max its bandwidth out again. Though they added 50 megabits to the bandwidth this year, they expect they will need to add another 50 or 100 megabits next year to keep BSM students and teachers to continue to utilize the internet in the classroom. I believe we’ll have to expand the bandwidth next year.  I think teachers and students are getting more savvy about the things they use on the Web.  We want teachers and students to be looking at streamed video.  There’s some good educational opportunities out there,” said Pohlen.