ITSS

SMU WiFi Review Survey

SMU Wi-Fi – We need your help!

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ITSS has received various reports of issues using the Wi-Fi network on campus. We do know that we have had several significant network outages related to DNS in recent months (see below) which affected the entire campus network. We have taken corrective measures to prevent such events, but we continue to receive reports of Wi-Fi issues. Further adding to our diagnostic challenges is the fact that while some report no further problems with Wi-Fi, others continue to experience problems. What we need is more information, and here is where you can help.

There are two ways you can assist us:

  1. If you are currently having problems, please contact our Help Desk via email (Help.Desk@smu.ca), phone (902-496-8111), or in person at one of our two locations (Loyola Academic 2nd floor, Atrium). They may be able to find a solution, or at the very least they will record the details so that we can begin to better understand what is happening. 
  2. We would ask that everyone, whether you have experienced problems or not and whether they are resolved or not, to please take a few minutes to complete our survey here. Your responses will provide us with the diagnostic information we need to find a lasting solution.

Please be assured that we understand the critical nature of Wi-Fi to our students. We try very hard to ensure it meets your expectations and are always working to correct any deficiencies. But, to do so we need specifics, so please take a few moments to help us out.

More on DNS Issues

We have had 12 incidents with our Domain Name System (DNS). These have caused outages of 1 to 11 hours at a time, on both the Wi-Fi and wired networks, so that anyone on campus could not access the Internet. The last such outage was March 3rd.

What is DNS?

DNS, or Domain Name System, is a network protocol that acts as an address book on the network (AKA the internet). When a computer needs to communicate with another on the network anywhere in the world, it must translate the site or computer name to an address. For example, the address for www.smu.ca is 140.184.59.33. DNS is hierarchical, so we have local DNS servers here on campus that know the addresses for the Saint Mary’s network. If a request is received for a site outside of the Saint Mary’s network, our DNS servers hand the request onto other DNS servers on the Internet. Eventually, usually in less than a second, an answer comes back from a DNS on somewhere on the Internet.

Because DNS is so critical, we have 4 DNS servers on campus to ensure that DNS is always available.

What happened to our DNS?

Normally our DNS servers handle several hundred requests at a time. On the dates of outages the requests spiked to over 80,000 on each server. This caused delays in answering the requests, and your computers returned errors that web sites and other services could not be found.
So, we know the symptoms (flooding of our DNS) but we don’t know yet what is flooding it. There are several possible root causes and we are looking into all of them.
What have we done to remedy the situation?

We have taken a number of steps to correct the problem, including:

  • Changed the number of DNS servers and how they talk to each other
  • Changed how the computers on campus use the DNS servers and the order the DNS servers are queried
  • Monitor logs regularly for any indication of flooding or other unusual activity
  • Engaged an external networking expert to review our configuration and logs. We have actioned several of their recommendations and plan to do others.

These actions seem to have had positive results, because we noticed some flooding as recently as March 8th that did not cause a widespread outage.
How many Wi-Fi Access Points do we have on campus?

We have about 460 access points spread across all buildings. This year we added 20 and we continually monitor demand and add more as needed.

What can I do to help?

Again, please take the time to complete our brief survey here. And remember to contact the Helpdesk any time you experience Wi-Fi problems.

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THANK YOU FOR YOUR HELP!
ITSS