The History of the UNH-IOL

An Opportunity to be InterOperable

The University of New Hampshire InterOperability Laboratory (UNH-IOL) began as a branch of the University's Research Computing Center (RCC). In 1988, the RCC was testing Fiber Distributed Data Interface (FDDI) equipment with the intention of deploying it in its network. The RCC found that equipment from two vendors was not interoperable and contacted the vendors in an attempt to find a solution. After some debate, the two vendors came together to solve the problem, which stemmed from differences between the draft and final versions of the FDDI specification. During the same time period, the RCC was testing 10BASE-T Ethernet interfaces for another, unrelated project.

The RCC now had in-depth knowledge of both FDDI and 10BASE-T, and experience performing technical network testing. The University recognized the need for comprehensive interoperability testing of network equipment, and also the opportunity to educate its students in emerging technologies. Conceived with the vision of bringing together the collective resources of many companies in a vendor-neutral environment, the UNH-IOL began to develop common test beds, tools and methodologies, and was now uniquely positioned to provide testing services to companies, at a cost savings unattainable by any company or commercial laboratory. In addition, students now had the opportunity to work with the latest technologies and equipment, and to engage with the creators of those technologies directly. This model proved to be a win-win method and in 1990 the first UNH-IOL Consortium was founded.

Experience Plus Expertise Equals Growth

As its reputation for expertise in testing, procedural development and the interpretation of technical specifications grew, so did the UNH-IOL. This growth brought new technologies and equipment to the lab, providing more value for its members and more opportunities for its students; nowhere else could students gain the breadth and depth of knowledge available at the UNH-IOL.

The UNH-IOL is continually evolving with the computer networking industry and has worked with many technologies since its 10BASE-T and FDDI beginnings. Included in this list are the venerable Token Ring network, IPv6, many varieties of Ethernet, Wireless communication, various flavors of DSL, and several network storage technologies.

While the core focus of the UNH-IOL has always been the development and execution of test suites and methodologies as well as the technical training of students, the lab has expanded its role in the industry. The UNH-IOL has been involved in industry trade shows and test events operating booths and performing interoperability demonstrations at conferences such as SUPERCOMM, GLOBALCOMM, and TelcoTV. The lab also hosts group test events known as Plugfests.

The UNH-IOL undertakes research and development projects and participates in many standards organizations, providing the industry as a whole with a neutral partner whose experience is unparalleled.

The Continuing Journey

The UNH-IOL began more than two decades ago in a small room at UNH. In August 2002, the UNH-IOL moved to a 32,000 square-foot facility on the edge of campus where it continues to pursue its dual mission of fostering interoperability and providing its students with a uniquely valuable educational experience. With over 20 active consortia, and more in development, the UNH-IOL has grown alongside its industry partners, and will continue to do so in the future. By the fifteenth anniversary of the laboratory in 2003, the UNH-IOL had grown from a handful of students and staff sharing part of an office in Morse Hall to over 100 graduate and undergraduate students and over 20 full-time staff members. Hundreds of companies have been, and continue to be, involved in testing at the UNH-IOL. As new technologies continue to emerge, the UNH-IOL will continue to be a neutral, unbiased resource for the data communications industry, and a hands-on lab to give students real-world experience.


William Lenharth, '69, '74G, '78G

Barry Reinhold, '81,'88G