SWIFT Builds Bulletproof Hackpoly Network

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The 24-hour technology build-a-thon event, Hackpoly, drew almost 500 college students to the Cal Poly Pomona campus. The majority arrived with a laptop tucked under an arm or a desktop on a cart.

Competitors had the option to log on to a dedicated Hackpoly wireless network or plug in via LAN. Whatever the connection preference, having that many power users on personal computers, smartphones and other data-sucking devices created a massive traffic demand. 

“When the Internet goes down, people start leaving,” Poly Founders vice president and event organizer Rushi Shah says. “The retention rate at this Hackpoly was greatly improved over previous years and the network held up better than any other hackathon I’ve been to.”

The change this year had a lot to do with Poly Founders enlisting the help of another club, Students With an Interest in the Future of Technology (SWIFT,) to set up and maintain the network during Hackpoly.

According to club president Joe Needleman, SWIFT members ran more than 3,000 feet of cable to 45 switches strategically placed throughout the Bronco Student Center. The network routed nearly 1.5 terabytes of traffic during the event.

SWIFT was given a few weeks to not only build a network that required coordinating with I&IT on details like switching jacks and routers to use the infrastructure, it also needed to form a team to protect it once operational.

“We maintained almost 100-percent connectivity because we had someone there throughout the night,” fourth-year-CIS major David Vidal says. “It was chaotic – we had people coming in and out asking for cables or with connectivity issues. We had to figure out a game plan to organize all of that.”

During the event, an administrator was in charge of monitoring the switches and routers while an additional admin kept an eye out for malicious traffic. There was even a SWIFT member holding down a 24-hour help desk. In all, SWIFT staffed eight positions dedicated to the project.

“We configured these switches like they would in a production environment; our network was very similar to what you would see in the real world,” Vidal says. “Our customer was Hackpoly and we wanted to make sure to give them the best service we can.”

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