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UNH's InterOperability Laboratory makes sure latest innovations work

Union Leader Correspondent

September 17. 2013 10:02PM

DURHAM — The InterOperability Laboratory is referred to by some as one of the best kept secrets at the University of New Hampshire.

For 25 years, the independent test site for new networking technologies has been employing students, working with industry leaders from IBM to Microsoft and bringing engineers and company representatives from around the world into Durham.

On Monday, the UNH-IOL held an anniversary party at their 121 Technology Drive office, tucked inside the giant Goss International building at the west edge of campus.

"Our work here is always exciting, but we're really thrilled to share what we do with the broader UNH and New Hampshire community," UNH-IOL director Erica Johnson said.

The IOL is focused on helping companies test how their technology interoperates with other technology and how different systems work together, or interoperability.

Cisco started using the UNH-IOL around 2003, and senior product manager Ric Chavez said at that time the IOL was really establishing itself as an industry leader.

He said Cisco continues to work with the lab because it has a significant impact on their business.

"We know there is a real return on our investment," Chavez said.

Cisco has 19 separate districts that pay out of their own budgets for memberships to the IOL.

Chavez said they interviewed and compared hundreds of labs "and when the decision was made, far and away it was an easy choice."

"The business model of bringing in students is key to the work," he said, because Cisco knows they can manage the scale of testing they need.

The California-based company recently celebrated their 100th product tested at the IOL.

"Those 100 products literally represent some of Cisco's highest revenue products," Chavez said. "We don't do it just for fun. This is real business for Cisco."

The UNH-IOL is self-funding and employs about 120 undergraduate students in the 32,000-square-foot space. The students are mentored by industry leaders, faculty members and older peers.

There is a plan in the works to move the UNH-IOL downtown, where it will be more visible and where Durham's amenities will be more accessible to the many visiting engineers and company representatives that use the lab.

Bob Russell is a professor of computer science at the university but said the IOL provides opportunities for all kinds of students. Student employees at the IOL are often computer science or electrical engineering majors, but they also come from other disciplines, including at least one zoology/psychology major.

"We don't expect they know much about the innards of networking, they just have to be interested in it," Russell said. "We put them to work and we train them."

It provides a good, full-time summer job for students and flexible opportunities during the academic year.

Students are involved when engineers from different companies connected through similar technologies come in to test and compare.

"Most students get jobs before they even graduate and when they go to industry they don't need to be trained," Russell said.

He said given the constantly evolving technology, he thinks there will be a role for the IOL for the foreseeable future.

UNH sophomore Jeremy Hochschwender, 19, of Rye, chose to attend UNH because of the IOL, and began working there the summer before he began college.

"I wanted somewhere I could get real world experience with real world companies," Hochschwender said.

He said it has been an "amazing experience" working with different mobile technology companies on emerging technologies and expects to work in the field when he graduates.

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