University officials placed restrictions on Internet file sharing from residence hall computers last week after significant network slowdowns this year. The limitations on how much the network in each residence hall can handle come after increased student use of the newest version of the popular file-sharing program KaZaA.
The increase caused network traffic to nearly double since its introduction, according to a letter sent out to all students by Information Systems Services Oct. 4.
“The majority of traffic coming out of residence halls is coming from these types of programs,” said Guy Jones, chief technology officer for ISS.
KaZaA allows users to download and share audio, video, text and software files and has recently been investigated by several universities because its most recent version upgrade, Version 2, significantly slows networks.
Officials said the newest version of KaZaA prohibits administrators from imposing bandwidth limitations. Bandwidth is the amount of information that a network can process at one time. Without restrictions, too much file sharing can overwhelm the GW network and severely limit overall Internet speed.
Officials have also lowered file-sharing programs on its list of network priorities, Jones said. Higher priorities include Webmail, GW Web sites and Internet browsing.
GW currently does not possess enough bandwidth for all students to use the Internet at the same time, but it should have enough for reasonable use, Jones said.
Although all file-sharing programs take up GW’s bandwidth, officials said they were forced to place a limit on KaZaA because it is designed to use more bandwidth than other programs in order to increase downloading speed.
But Jones said GW currently has no plans to ban KaZaA or any other file-sharing programs. A number of universities including, Kent State, Rice and Seton Hall universities, moved to ban Napster two years ago when the file-sharing program came under protest.
File sharing remains “part of the college experience,” Jones said. He said students should not have a problem using the network if they limit their usage to a few downloads per day.
“Students are only hurting other students (in their residence halls),” Jones said, referring to students who overuse file-sharing programs.
Jones said he suggests students turn off the sharing option on their computer so outside users cannot download students’ files and take up GW network space. Jones said another consideration is KaZaA Version 2’s accessibility to hackers, and he urges students to get Norton Antivirus and firewall software, both of which are available from Resnet.
“Turning your system into a server opens holes in your security,” Jones said.
The typical residence hall connection has a bandwidth of 10 megabytes per second, but Jones said when students leave KaZaA running, outside users can access the network and download files, swamping the system.
The KaZaA program has also been under careful watch from other universities recently.
Colgate University reached its “100 percent capacity” during the first week of school, mainly because of media downloads, said John Gattuso, director of Network Systems and Operations at Colgate. He said the network capacity was reached because of downloads from all programs, including KaZaA 2.
“(It is our) policy to keep our eye on (KaZaA) and reevaluate if we see network performance go down the tubes,” he said.
Yale University officials also said the school started limiting bandwidth this year.
Without it, “outbound traffic would be flooded easily,” said Joseph Paolillo, director of Data Network Operations at Yale University. “By and large, we haven’t had any significant vociferous complaints.”
He also said bandwidth restrictions freed up space for other Internet activities, like e-mail and Web browsing.
Despite warnings from ISS officials, some GW students said they will continue to use KaZaA as much as they did before the bandwidth limits.
Junior Rey Quevedo said that he uses KaZaA “almost every day” and will disregard advice from ISS.
“It’s just like the printing (quota),” he said. “If GW asks people not to print a lot of stuff (students) just blow it off.”
“It will hurt ordinary students on campus . but in the end we are not the ones with the power, no matter how fair it is,” junior Lisa Derouard said.
But some students said they understand the University’s position, and that students should act responsibly so they don’t use up all of GW’s bandwidth.
“Everyone who goes here should be able to understand the limitations of the system and keep their activities within certain bounds so that all of us can have an enjoyable Internet experience,” freshman Jacob Blair said.