2007 Campus Technology Innovators: Virtualized Networks

2007 Campus Technology Innovators

Innovator: Rice University

Rice U's Kamran Khan

Kamran Khan on the
university's new
virtualized network:
"We took a holistic
approach in architecting
and designing an
innovative infrastructure
that is future-ready and
does not require a forklift

Foregoing traditional switched networking for a high-capacity, advanced virtualized network

When technologists at Rice University (TX) set out to upgrade the institution's network in 2004, they decided to forgo traditional switched networking to leverage carrier class technology and create a high-capacity, advanced virtualized network. Along the way, the university constructed a state-ofthe- art network, along with enterprise storage and a new data center. Today, Rice is recognized as the first academic institution to utilize multiprotocol label-switching (MPLS) virtual private networks (VPNs).

The need for reliability, security, and quality of service was the driving force behind this project. Working with Cisco Systems and IBM, Vice Provost for Information Technology Kamran Khan and a team of IT researchers created an initial MPLS design and then visited campus stakeholders to vet the concept, secure buy-in, and collect additional requirements. The proposal was funded in spring 2005, and the blueprint for building the infrastructure revolved around a major overhaul of integral academic, administrative, and research cyberinfrastructure.

Technology choices. Rice engaged IBM and Cisco to execute the project on an accelerated timeline. Contractors were hired through IBM to install the copper and fiber infrastructure. As each building was wired, Rice and IBM installed the network equipment and prepared the infrastructure for client migrations. As part of the conversion, technologists migrated data to BlueArc enterprise storage using disk-to-disk backup technology from Copan Systems. Elsewhere, teams installed technology from Sun Microsystems, CommVault, and Hewlett-Packard.

"The infrastructure was designed in collaboration with our faculty and students for efficiency, support, future demand, innovation, management and maintenance, performance, and cost efficiencies," says Khan. "We took a holistic approach in architecting and designing an innovative infrastructure that is future-ready and does not require a forklift replacement."

IT staff served as the first test group to migrate their computers in the spring of 2006. During the summer, this team wired residence halls, and students helped identify bottlenecks in the migration process. For the August move-in weekends, IT set up temporary help desks in each residence hall to assist with network connections. During this time, Rice designed and built a new data center, which was scheduled to open in July 2007.

Rice U's William Deigaard

Director of Networking,
and Data Center Operations
William Deigaard:
"Considering the scope of
this project, it's amazing to
see what we've accomplished
in the past 18 months."

Myriad benefits. Thus far, the system has worked wonders. Faculty, staff, and students have the same network privileges regardless of their campus location—wired or wireless. Researchers can send petabyte files from Rice highperformance computers to project collaborators all over the world. Graduate business students can access project data with laptops from any location on campus. Perhaps most impressively, cello students can participate in Yo Yo Ma's Florida master class via high-speed Internet2 videoconferencing.

But there have been other benefits, too. First, Khan says gigabit connectivity will allow researchers to solve very large data-intensive problems and submit more competitive grant proposals. He notes the sophisticated network also will give Rice an edge with faculty recruitment and retention. The network will even reduce departmental costs through consolidation to central servers and services. Finally, the university will see a greatly reduced risk of data loss with enterprise storage and the new data center.

Challenges met. Alas, no project is perfect, and the Rice network migration presented a few surprises along the way. Khan says the academic schedule created challenges for wiring and desktop migrations in faculty offices, and he notes that school technologists learned the hard way that re-cabling an active research institution environment cannot be done during daylight hours. All that is behind the team now; down the road, says Khan, the next phase will incorporate applications, ePortfolios, web services, and open source for data collection and system integration.

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