Data Communications Lab


The Data Communications Center at GVSU is a dedicated facility used by faculty to teach four courses in four degree programs. The lab made possible in part, by the National Science Foundation, is equipped for teaching basic data communications concepts, LANs, and client/ server networking. The Cooperative Association for Internet Data Analysis (CAIDA) sponsored grant in 2000 by Cable & Wireless/ MCI and Cisco has allowed the expansion of the lab into an Internet Teaching Laboratory facility. The faculty interest, student population, courses, lab infrastructure, and especially the CAIDA grant have given us the wide area networking capability to support a lab-based curriculum. The CAIDA grant and a gift of twenty-four mid-range routers by Meijer Inc. in July 2001, provides the lab with the means of providing maximum student exposure to Internet technologies.

The School of CIS offers undergraduate majors in computer science and information systems as well as a master's degree in Computer Information Systems. Our courses are integrated in the School of Engineering's Computer Engineering Minor and the Seidman School of Business's emphasis in Organizational Information Systems in their Management Major. We have done extensive curriculum development, focusing on data communications as part of our growing computing education program. In 1994, we introduced a small hands-on data communications lab into our primary data communications course and a course for non-majors.

Based on our experience using the small prototype lab for student networking exercises, we developed a successful proposal for a National Science Foundation Instrumentation and Laboratory Improvement (NSF-ILI) grant in 1996. Today, our very modern local area network lab is used to support student work in network design, management and administration. The courses using the lab include a data communications course for business students, two network management courses for our Information Systems majors, and a course for computer science and computer engineering majors.


Data Communications Lab Design:

The 920 sq. ft. (20' x 46") lab was designed with sufficient power and climate control for the present lab configurations. The lab was designed to support 24 students with a server and a client machine for each team of two students. In practice, we have limited each laboratory session to twenty students supervised by the instructor and a laboratory assistant. Students enrolled in our data communications courses are authorized 24-hour access to the lab via a key card system.

The lab has sufficient routers, switches and repeaters, mounted on telecom racks, to teach the management of Ethernet, fast Ethernet configurations. Our LAN includes a 3Com Corebuilder 7000 ATM switch that acts as a backbone for the lab. We plan to link the Cisco routers with the ATM switch.

The lab has a horizontal wire distribution system used to teach the TIA 569 LAN wiring standard. All twisted pair circuits run from a patch panel on the telecom rack to standard RJ45 outlets via a cable tray. Our Internet feed is via one of six multi-mode fiber circuits into the lab from our University's central router room. One of the fiber circuits is used to connect our network to a remote lab. The eight analog telephone circuits into the lab, are used for remote access exercises.

The data communications lab is on it's own subnet (, for which we control the IP configuration and assignments. All IP assignments are registered in the University's domain name server.

A ceiling mounted video projector is used for demonstrations of hub configuration, traffic analysis, and to lead students through installations and configurations of software.

Visit the Lab through photos


Laboratory's Equipment:

Our lab includes a rapidly growing list of major equipment and many interfaces for the following systems and connectivity devices:


  • 12 Pentium IV 2Ghz systems used as Linux, Novell, and Win2k servers for student installation, configuration, management and traffic generation and analysis of the network.
  • 12 Pentium III 650 systems used as Linux, Novell, Win2000/XP clients
  • 1 Pentium IV 2Ghz system and 10 Pentium III 450 systems used as instructor demonstation stations, permanent web servers, database servers, and for storage of installation files
  • LAN equipment

    • 1-Cisco Catalyst 3550 48port Fast Ethernet Layer Three Switch
    • 1- Cisco Catalyst 3550 12 port Gigabit Ethernet Layer Three Switch
    • 1- Cabletron 100BaseTx (and Fx) Switch with 92 ports
    • 2- 3Com Corebuilder 7000 ATM Switches with OC-3 ATM ports & 100BaseFX ports
    • 1- 3Com SuperStack II 3300 10/100 Fast Ethernet Switch with 12 ports and a GigaBit port (1000Base-SX)
    • 2- 3Com Fast Ethernet 100 Hubs with management module
    • 1- 3Com SuperStack II 1100 Ethernet Switch with (24) 10Base-T ports, (1)100-Base-Tx port, and (1)ATM uplink
    • 1- 3Com Segmentable Ethernet hub with 24 ports
    • 3- 3Com Lanplex 2500 switches
    • 1- 48 port Cat5 Patch Panel (rack end of our TIA/EIA569 horizontal distribution system)
    • 6- Linksys BEFSR41 - 4port 100BaseT Switch/Routers with VPN and Firewall.
    • 1- Linksys 802.11 A & G wireless AccessPoint/4 Port router
  • WAN Equipment

    • 8- Cisco 7000/7500 routers
    • 24- Cisco 4000 routers
    • 1- Cisco 2501 router:
    • 2- Cisco AccessPro EC PC routers cards
    • 1- Cisco 2509 Access Router
    • 3- 3Com Lanplex 2500 switches

Our original data communications lab (144sq ft in a adjoining building) is used for student Internet server projects, secure server space, and legacy technologies. This small lab is part of our dedicated subnet. The development of the original lab was documented in the article: Levin, Martin H. A Prototype for A Data Communications Laboratory - Or a Data Com Lab in a Closet, proceedings of the 28th ACM SIGCSE Technical Symposium and Computer Science Education, Feb 97, pp. 179-183.


GVSU ITL(Internet Teaching Laboratory) Configuration:

The ITL equipment has been integrated with our LAN equipment in our existing lab space. As a result of the recent CAIDA grant, the earlier NSF grant, and the Meijer gift, lab is equipped with items that had an original estimated value (when new) of between $400,000 to $500,000.

We believe that maximum student involvement and hands-on experience is important and is supported in our layout with the five Cisco 7000 routers and the approximately 30 other routers.

The visualization of lab exercises is facilitated with the use of our video projector. The console video signal for all routers can be displayed with the projector.

The basic configuration of our five Cisco 7000 router based lab is that each router is designated as an Internet backbone location: "San Jose", "Denver", "Chicago", "Washington" and "Atlanta". Each 7000 router supports four to six Cisco 4000 routers used as corporate edge routers. Two Cisco 4000 routers have been coupled to create an additional backbone location called "Dallas". This simulation allow our student to configure all the WAN routing protocols in a realistic manner. Individual hosts can be attached to the 10Mbps Ethernet port of the 4000 routers, representing a cloud of machines at each corporate site.

Our sample lab configurations are consistent with CAIDA's suggested labs, but have been modified to include our existing LAN equipment. Our setups create an actual LAN and router combination at simulated distant locations. We have recently added a small Cisco 2509 Access Server/Router, which is used by student to configure a small ISP simulation.


Current Usage:

The lab is the center for these classes.

Additional Considerations:

Maximized Usage: Our department is unusual in that it is a joint Computer Science and Information Systems department which has a large service course commitment for the support of other programs throughout the University. Our relationships with the other departments and schools are well established and facilitated by coordinating committees for our joint programs. All curriculum changes are closely monitored and approved by the Divisional (College's) and University's curriculum committees.


  • Support to Other Departments
    School of Engineering: Our CIS 457 is a required course in the Computer Engineering minor which is jointly supported by the GVSU School of Engineering and the School of Computer Science and Information Systems. The lab will be made available to the School of Engineering for any additional courses they desire and research by their faculty and students. The joint Computer Engineering curriculum committee from Engineering and CIS have met over the last three years and help coordinate the goals for the ITL goals in that minor.

    Seidman School of Business: Our CIS 337 is a required course in the MIS major in the School of Business minor supported by our department. Additional use of the lab will be offered the Seidman School for any additional courses that they desire us to develop and research by their faculty and students. A committee of members of both departments meets to coordinate this jointly supported minor.


  • Support to other local Schools
    We have offered to make detailed lectures and lab exercises available to the Newaygo County Career-Tech Center's Networking curriculum. They have built a hands-on laboratory for LANs, but could benefit from using our router system. Our lectures and ITL lab usage for that institution would available on a non-interference basis with our data communications classes. The same opportunity is available to other local technical high schools and community colleges on a space available basis.
  • Summer programs
    It would be possible in the near future to offer summer router seminars for local business under the auspices of GVSU extension institute.

Contributions to other participating universities:

GVSU is making our curriculum and lab exercises available to CAIDA grant participants and others via the CAIDA ITL web page and our local server. We are actively seeking collaborations and mentoring relationships with local commercial organizations, extending availability of the lab to other colleges and universities, etc. We will continue to use our heavy involvement in ACM SIGCSE to share experiences and labs. Our experience in developing the data communications lab and the curriculum has been documented at national and international conferences on the teaching of computer science (ACM SIGCSE Symposium, ACM ITiCSE conference). These presentations have yielded requests from other universities for assistance in the development of their data communications laboratories. In August 2002, several faculty members attended the ACM Sigcomm 2002 conference and workshop on Data Communications Curriculums.

We desire to act as a regional center for Internet Teaching Labs in the same way that we are currently building support as a regional center for LANs.

Key Personnel:

The Data Communications Group of the School of CIS department is a team of four professors who teach communications with the Data Communications lab and desire to do research in LANS/WANS. The implementation of the ITL will be a team effort of this group. Mr. Martin H. Levin serves as the primary investigator and focal point for this project.

The faculty include:

  • Dr. Mostafa El-Said is new to our school and is the designated replacement of Mr. Levin. He is currently teaching CIS457 and a section of the CIS337 Lab among other courses. He is interested in wireless networks and has developed an wireless networking course to be offered shortly.
  • Dr. Christian Trefftz teaches regularly CIS654, the graduate level Data Communications course.
  • Dr. Jerry Scripps is a member of our Data Communications Interest Group.

Support for the ITL:

  • Departmental Support
    Mr. Levin received an alternative assignment, equal to three credit hours to implement the lab for two semesters immediately following the grant’s approval and receipt of the equipment. Support for additional alternative assignments has been determined annually since the initial implementation period. The Department of Computer Science and Information Systems supports all laboratory courses with qualified students assistants to assist with laboratory setups and exercises. One student is provided for each section.
  • University Support
    The University's commitment to the ITL has provided adequate and attractive space, power, climate control, and security for the data communications lab. While the NSF provided $25,000 in seed funds for the original grant, the University has contributed in far in excess of $200,000 in matching funds and other funds for equipment and construction of the facility. The University's administration supports our labs with additional funds allocated in a special technology budget to the department for technology, operation of the labs and for hiring student support staff .
  • Local industry support
    School of CIS has an outside advisory council composed of the Chief Information Officers from approximately fifteen large Grand Rapids based firms. They routinely evaluate our curriculum and suggest modifications. In planning our proposal, we approached The ISERV Company for technical assistance for the project. They enthusiastically provided the support necessary for the establishment of the ITL. Iserv provided technical review of our grant proposal and pledged assistance with the initial configuration of the lab.

    Our thanks goes to Mr. Don Drury of the Grand Rapids CISCO office, who reviewed our CAIDA grant proposal for technical feasibility. A special thanks goes to two of our graduates, Robert Anderson and Jorge Paramo of the technical staff of the Iserv Company, Inc, who also reviewed the proposal and suggested curriculum additions based on their extensive knowledge of Cisco routers and ISP operations.

    Our gratitude goes to the Don Hoogerhyde and Harold Fuerfel of Meijer Inc., the Grand Rapids based superstore company, for their help in arranging Meijer gift of twenty-four Cisco 4000 mid-range routers to the lab.

  • National support
    The GVSU ITL would never have been established if it had not been for the assistance of the fine people that make up the Cooperative Association for Internet Data Analysis (CAIDA) organization. Our thanks to Evi Nemeth, the Co-Principal Investigator for the Internet Engineer Curriculum (IEC) and the Internet Teaching Labs (ITL) programs and Theresa Boisseau, the Project Coordinator, for their tremendous efforts to establish the IEC/ITL program, to get equipment to us and provided workshops to teach us to use the equipment in a teaching lab situation.

    And of course, no thank you would be complete without mentioning Prof. Jorg Liebeherr of the University of Virginia, who created the prototype ITL and created the sample syllabus and exercises used by the ITL's across the country.