- By Wendy Chretien
Two innovative institutions move toward 21st-century networking
and create models for other colleges and universities to pursue.
WHEN IT COMES TO NETWORKING, everything is new under the sun—at least,
to colleges and universities looking for new ways to expand and enable connectivity
on campus and beyond. For the two universities profiled here, new technological
advances, groundbreaking Internet service providers, and thinking past the immediate
curve were key.
Innovation: Forging a Super-Powered Converged Network
Innovator: Florida International University Interviewees: John P.
McGowan, CIO and VP for Information Resources; Al Losada, director of Enterprise
Technology and Support System and services background.
FIU operates the Miami-based AMPATH GigaPOP, a major point of presence for
traffic to and from Latin America and throughout the Caribbean. [Editor’s note:
The Webopedia (www.webopedia.com)
defines GigaPOP as follows: “Short for gigabit Point of Presence, a network
access point that supports data transfer rates of at least 1Gbps. Currently,
only a few gigaPOPs exist, and they’re used primarily for accessing the I2 network.
Each university that connects to I2 must do so through a gigaPOP, which connects
the university’s LANs and WANs to the I2 network. Originally, 12 gigaPOPs were
planned, each one serving half a dozen I2 members, but the number of gigaPOPs
is likely to grow. Whereas the POPs maintained by ISPs are designed to allow
low-speed modems to connect to the Internet, gigaPOPs are designed for fast
access to a high-speed network, such as I2.] GigaPOP partners of FIU include
CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research, in Switzerland), the University
of Illinois-Chicago, California Institute of Technology, and the
University of São Paulo (Brazil). Petabytes of data from astronomical
observatories and high-energy physics research projects comprise some of the
bandwidthintensive traffic into and out of the GigaPOP.
FIU also boasts a very robust internal campus network that carries converged
voice and data traffic including unified messaging (combined voicemail and e-mail).
It has a university-wide VoIP system and operates a 12-seat Cisco Systems (www.cisco.com)
IPCC Express call center that takes 100,000 calls per year. The call center
began life providing technology help desk services, utilizing BMC Remedy software
(www.remedy.com). It was
recently expanded to include enrollment support to better respond to student
Network as the Great Enabler for Faculty and Students. So, how d'es
this infrastructure benefit faculty and students? One way is via the creation
of an on-campus grid of faculty computers to apply enhanced processing to collaborative
research projects that need teraflops (measures of computer speed expressed
as “a trillion floating point operations per second”) of processing power. The
grid is also being extended to programs in biology, including a biodiversity
project in Panama, and a partnership with the
University of Kansas. But
FIU also plans to virtualize education in the classroom through collaboration
with other colleges and universities, allowing professors and students at multiple
sites to work as though all in one classroom. CIO John McGowan anticipates the
College of Business’ International Business Program will be among those to take
advantage of this opportunity.
At the same time, FIU hasn’t left behind its local constituents. Partly through
funding provided by the National Science Foundation (www.nsf.gov),
the university provides outreach to greater-Miami-area high school science teachers
and students who can work on collaborative real-time applications with university
Lessons learned. Enterprise Technology and Support Director Al Losada
admits that all of this didn’t happen without some pain. Fortunately, University
Technology Services (UTS) looked at the initiative not as a technology project,
but as a university project. UTS involved the entire community in the planning,
including recruiting advocates from various departments to interface with their
users. This made the project a positive experience rather than an invasive one,
say those involved.
The university also performs a return on investment (ROI) analysis for every
new project under consideration, to ensure that total cost of ownership (TCO)
is accounted for. That’s partly what drove the VoIP implementation, say McGowan
and Losada. The cost of the initial campuswide VoIP system was recovered within
about two years, due largely to the ability to replace Centrex lines (costing
$26 per line per month) with the new system (about $5 per line per month). There
were also some savings in consolidation of services among multiple campuses.
The main campus now provides many functions remotely that previously required
onsite equipment and/or personnel.
Planning and staffing. The planning group also spent considerable time
thinking about what a converged network would mean, and therefore decided to
meld its telephone, networking, and operations groups organizationally before
it tackled the physical infrastructure. Losada notes, “We had to artificially
create that environment at first, but it’s now a natural thing that the teams
work together.” Virtual teams are assigned for new projects, including members
from the video/multimedia group.
Outside consultants are occasionally used for specific tasks or projects, and
FIU did hire a project manager especially for the VoIP implementation project.
The university also plans to outsource an Oracle/PeopleSoft (www.oracle. com)
project that is about to begin. However, like many colleges and universities,
FIU makes extensive use of its own students’ brain power and know-how.
Building a Campus/Vendor Partnership for Bandwidth and Resale
Innovator: University of Pennsylvania Interviewee: Michael Palladino, associate
vice president of Networking and Telecommunications
System and services background. Like FIU, the University of Pennsylvania
also hosts a GigaPOP known as MAGPI (Mid-Atlantic GigaPOP in Philadelphia for
Internet2). By one means or another, nearly one-third of the K-12 school districts
in Pennsylvania are connected to MAGPI, as are other higher ed institutions
such as Princeton (NJ) and the University of Delaware.
The Penn connection to Internet2 supports international high-speed video conferencing,
distributed and online health care, bridging of K-12 to higher ed, and regional
workforce development. One example of a supported project is the oncampus General
Robotics, Automation, Sensing, and Perception (GRASP) Lab, which is a multi-disciplinary
research laboratory. A few of the major research thrusts in the GRASP laboratory
include three-dimensional reconstruction of environments for use in immersive
environments, development of assistive devices for people with disabilities,
the design of novel sensors for vision and perception, and modeling and control
of biological systems.
In addition to its Internet2 connectivity, Penn also has become a reseller
of commercial Internet services (Internet1) to non-profit organizations in the
tri-state area. By aggregating traffic at its site, Penn is able to purchase
huge amounts of service and make pieces of it very affordable for its partners/subscribers
on a cost recovery basis.
Challenge and fulfillment. Fortunately, Associate Networking and Telecom
VP Michael Palladino foresaw years ago the need to provide a large conduit to
the Internet. When he realized that “even” a T3 (45Mbps) circuit wasn’t going
to fulfill the university’s needs, he sought other avenues. At the time, multinational
Tier 1 Internet service provider Cogent Communications (www.cogentco.com)
was offering a revolutionary idea connectivity in 100Mbps increments at $10
per megabit. Palladino was skeptical, as the offering seemed too good to be
true, but he decided it was worth a shot and initiated Cogent service with a
link to the Penn campus at 100Mbps. Within six months, he found that it was
saturated.The use of the bandwidth grew exponentially, pushing Penn to upgrade
to a full gigabit connection. Because the university has a leased dark-fiber
(previously idle fiber-optic cable) link to the telecom hotel (a building constructed
or rebuilt for data centers; an Internet data center) in Philadelphia and uses
wavelength division multiplexing (WDM), it’s able to have up to eight connections
to that site.
In addition to the gigabit link, Penn started its resale service with 100-
Mbps, added a second 100Mbps link within nine months, and just recently bumped
up the service again to 500Mbps.
Lessons learned. Palladino notes, “We’re large and can’t afford to be
out [of service]. If we were out for two days,” he adds, “I would be fired”
(and he’s not joking). But his group has found the service to be very stable
and reliable. Even with all the growth experienced, the level of support hasn’t
slipped. Penn has now chosen to have only one backup ISP, rather than the two
or three it had in the past.
Palladino was also pleasantly surprised to find that the price quoted by Cogent
was not a “teaser rate” and has stayed stable, which, together with the reliable
service, has led to a long-term partnership that will stay in place through
2009. Dave Schaeffer, Cogent’s CEO, observes: “We’re an enabler. What organizations
do with this bandwidth is only limited by their imaginations.” Penn is one of
nearly 400 universities and colleges served by Cogent.
Overall, the impressive amount of connectivity purchased by the University
of Pennsylvania has permitted the 50,000 users of its network to pursue their
studies and research without ever having to “beg” for more bandwidth.