George Mason University: GMU Network Caps Costs, Not Service

George Mason University is deploying a new highly scalable optical network that will enable the university to connect local area networks at each of its three campuses to create one virtual multi-campus LAN. Going with an optical fiber solution rather than simply buying more bandwidth will also allow the network to grow with the university. And GMU is growing quickly; enrollment is expected to top 26,000 this fall.

According to Randy Anderson, director of Network Engineering and Technology at GMU, this will allow the university to get out of the habit of constantly buying more bandwidth and instead will allow them to develop an infrastructure that will grow with the university. The dark fiber laid between the university’s three campuses will facilitate the delivery of large data files, video, voice, and images with no loss of performance.

GMU is using Nortel Networks products—OPTera Metro 5200 Multiservice Platform, Passport 8600 Routing Switch, and Business Policy Switch—to provide point-to-point gigabit Ethernet services over a dense wavelength division multiplexing (DWDM) system. Voice traffic will be implemented in the near future, replacing tie lines to the PBX system.

According to Anderson, GMU’s three-campus structure presented a special challenge. “Each campus is growing rapidly and each has specific needs,” he says. “It was important to link the three campuses with a very high-quality high-bandwidth network in order to fulfill the goal of having a distributed university in which each student and faculty member has access to the resources of all three campuses, with little duplication of services and materials.”

The new optical network will help them achieve a number of objectives from a single location. For instance, it will facilitate the remote backup of file servers across the three campuses. It will permit fast and efficient remote access to campus services, much faster than through the T3 lines.

Videoconferencing will become more reliable and dependable. The Fairfax campus will have four dedicated video classrooms that can pull in or send out streaming video. Anderson notes that “the optical fiber network allows us to cap bandwidth costs without capping bandwidth.”

The network will also further GMU’s mission of technology innovation through research and will assist faculty with technology-dependent projects. For example, the Prince William campus, which has a strong biotechnology component, needs access to supercomputers to process its bioinformatics research data. Says Anderson, “These are huge data files. Without the private optical network, it would have been very expensive to conduct this research, moving these files around.” The new network gives Prince William researchers access to the supercomputers at the Fairfax campus for data management.

With the upgrade to optical networking, GMU is also working to increase its presence in Network Virginia, offering itself as a GigaPOP site for other member institutions.

Currently the optical network is in place between the Fairfax, Va. and the Prince William, Va., campus, and between Fairfax and the Arlington, Va., campus (site of the law school and school of public policy). A third segment, linking the Prince William and Arlington campuses to form a protected ring, has not yet been funded.

The optical Ethernet network will allow GMU to increase bandwidth without adding to costs. The alternative would have been to continually add bandwidth through additional OC3 lines—an expensive proposition. The network also gives the campus flexibility in terms of its technology plans. “This plan allows us to build for the future without speculating on what it might hold,” says Anderson.

For more information, contact Randy Anderson at randers4@gmu.edu.

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