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InterOperability Lab
Photo by Michael Warren '83

By David Appell

See also:
From IOL to Lucent
Unleashing the Laptop
The Education of Values

Barry Reinhold '81, '88G lives for days like this. He's standing in a large room with a concrete floor in, of all places, UNH's food stores warehouse. Around him are pallets stacked high with cardboard boxes still wrapped in shipping plastic. The noise of drilling and hammering ricochets around the room. He's wearing jeans, sneakers and a white T-shirt trumpeting a tool for backroom computer wizards: "FDDI Troubleshooting. I do it with LANHAWK."

Over the clamor, Reinhold explains that in five short days this room will be transformed into a group test site, the high-tech equivalent of a singles bar, where equipment manufacturers bring their latest models to see who gets along with whom. The goal, though, is not to pair couples off by the end of the party, but to have everyone prove compatible with everyone else. If all goes well, each of the machines tested here will communicate smoothly and easily with all of the others, with no one spilling their bits and bytes on the floor. The equipment manufacturers are paying $1,500 apiece to get into the dance, in addition to an annual membership fee of $10,000.

Reinhold is director of UNH's InterOperability Lab, a little-known facility that has quietly become the compatibility testing service for the data-communications industry. While it's helping some of the leading players in the new information economy to improve their products, the IOL is also providing employment and hands-on technical training to about 85 undergraduates and 35 graduate students. Amazingly, it's all done at no cost to the university.

More than 190 companies now depend on the IOL to test their data-communications equipment for compatibility with related products. To appreciate how important this service is, think about all the different pieces of equipment involved in sending a single e-mail message. Starting when you tell your computer to send the message, a host of different modems, network routers and servers begin "talking" to one another, handing data back and forth. Just as any electrical appliance is expected to work when plugged into any electrical outlet, data equipment from any manufacturer needs to be able to work smoothly with equipment from all other manufacturers.

"The IOL is a neutral party that has the technical knowledge companies want," says Reinhold, "We solve their problems in a way that is cost effective for them. And while we're helping them, we're also educating our students."

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