MANs bring multiple campuses and local communities together for economic opportunities.
Metropolitan area networks are integral to college and university computer and IT services. They can provide benefits beyond campus, however. MANs invariably push universities and colleges to think outside their traditional roles as on-campus network-service providers. By enabling dynamic collaboration with local institutions and communities, MANs can create economic opportunities for an entire region.
Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland and Oregon Health & Science University in Portland rank among the growing number of universities that have joined together with their local communities to create widening networks that can open financial and scholastic doors.
Case Western’s network is a prime example of how an evolving MAN can bestow benefits far beyond campus grounds. The university’s initial MAN included a wireless network covering all of University Circle, which is the square-mile section of Cleveland that’s home to the university and 50 other organizations, including four medical centers, the Cleveland Orchestra and numerous museums. The university leveraged that network into a regional broadband initiative. In 2003, it founded OneCleveland, which subsequently grew into OneCommunity, now a nonprofit organization providing broadband connectivity for 19 counties in northeastern Ohio, based on an extensive fiber-optic cable network.
“The technology community is in a position to be a significant and strategic partner in meeting some of the loftier and outward-focused missions of our universities,” says Lev Gonick, Case Western’s chief information officer and vice president for IT Services. “We can positively impact the community around us and in doing so find ways of benefiting from working with the community in a network-based relationship.”
Step One — Connecting the Campuses
The first step in the natural progression of a MAN is connecting a university’s campuses, either by leasing lines from a carrier or by stringing fiber. Loyola University of Chicago began leasing lines eight years ago to link its two city campuses and the university’s suburban medical center. Initially it used Ameritech’s LAN Interconnect Service before switching to AT&T’s GigaMAN service, using a ring topology for fail-over and redundancy.
“GigaMAN did not require us to invest in new hardware as would a move to SONET [synchronous optical network] or other technologies,” says Dan Vonder Heide, Loyola’s director of infrastructure services. “Other than being optimized for a larger geographic area, it is no different than managing a LAN.”
City College of San Francisco, on the other hand, decided to build its own network. The college offers about 4,500 courses each semester to more than 100,000 students at its main, 15-building campus and 10 single-building locations across the city.
“Our philosophy was to extend the educational programs into the neighborhoods,” says Network Manager Tim Ryan. “They tend to gain a flavor and serve the constituents of that particular neighborhood.”
The City of San Francisco approved a bond measure in 2001 that provided funding for technology-infrastructure improvements, including inter- campus connectivity. The college was able to use its existing Hewlett-Packard ProCurve 9308, 4000m and 5300xl Series Ethernet switching equipment; a larger challenge was finding a suitable partner to provide the fiber-cable infrastructure.
“At that time, the communications industry was going through a lot of bankruptcies, consolidations and mergers,” Ryan says. “Our challenge was finding a partner we were certain would be solvent and stable for the next 20 years.”
The only partner they had confidence in was the City of San Francisco’s Department of Telecommunications and Information Systems, so they asked them to string six pairs of fiber between the locations. After two years of planning, the department completed the installation of six fiber pairs between City College campuses within one year, and the network went live in 2005.
“Now we can extend VLANs across the city as easily as we extend them between buildings,” says Ryan. “The MAN also allows us to simplify the network-management tasks and perform faster computer upgrades since we can rapidly send large amounts of data over the network.”
New Jersey’s Rutgers University uses a MAN called RUNet to link its campuses in Newark, Camden, New Brunswick and Piscataway. The Cisco Systems network uses an OC-48 (2.4Gbps) SONET ring and interconnecting trees of high-speed routers in New Brunswick/Piscataway. Newark and Camden each hook in using 2 x 150Mbps Ethernet Private Lines. It plans a 10 Gig-E network to support Internet Protocol Television, Multicast and Voice over Internet Protocol.
“We aren’t running out of bandwidth, but we are trying to prepare for new technologies we know are coming,” says Adrienne Geralds, associate director of telecommunications network operations.
Step Two — Connecting the Colleges
The next step in a MAN’s evolution is connecting to other colleges. Rutgers uses a second network, the Rutgers Regional Network (RRN), which functions as a meeting point for external connectivity to service providers and education and business partners of the Rutgers community. The Juniper Networks RRN is interconnected by two metro Gigabit Ethernet circuits (each provisioned at 150Mbps) and a Gig-E fiber connection between New Brunswick and Piscataway. RRN provides connectivity to the Internet, Internet2 and direct connections to other universities, including the New Jersey Institute of Technology and the University of Medicine and Dentistry, as well as the New Jersey higher education technology consortium known as NJEdge.
Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) in Portland has a similar mix of MANs, says Don Westlight, OHSU’s manager of network infrastructure.
The internal MAN connects the main campus southwest of the city with its other facilities located in downtown Portland, along the riverfront, and its branch campus in Washington County. The next step up was the Portland Regional Education Network (PREN), a MAN created by OHSU and Portland State University (PSU) to connect the two schools, along with the Oregon Graduate Institute (OGI) School of Science & Engineering and other partners to the Internet and Internet2. PREN went live in 2000, using a Cisco 12000 GSR router to connect OGI, OHSU and PSU through leased OC-3c (155Mbps) local loop circuits and an OC-12c (622Mbps) connection to Seattle, where it hooks into Internet2 at the University of Washington.
“PREN was easy technologically and worked pretty well, but it didn’t solve the local connectivity problems,” says Westlight. “After completing PREN, we realized we needed to do more for our local mission, which is where NWAX [Northwest Access Exchange] came from.”
NWAX is an open Internet exchange point that links about 25 public and private networks and service providers in Portland, including OHSU and PSU. Members pay a small monthly fee to cover the operating expenses. NWAX uses gigabit Foundry Networks NetIron switches.
“Rather than try to build point-to-point networks ourselves and become vast ISPs, the idea is to hook together the networks that are already in existence,” Westlight says. “With local peering, everybody wins. With NWAX, I have gigabit connectivity to a bunch of organizations. In some cases, people working offsite or from other organizations have better access to OHSU resources than people on campus,” he says.
Step Three — Connecting the Community
Just as OHSU’s PREN led to NWAX, Case Western Reserve University has seen its MAN go far beyond its original vision.
“Back in 2003, the then-university president challenged the university to be the best neighbor that the city ever had,” says Case Western’s Gonick. “I outlined a strategy in which we could connect, enable and transform the region around us through leveraging technology to address community priorities.”
As time went on, the university’s MAN expanded into the OneCleveland project, involving other public organizations in Cleveland. Cisco and IBM provided initial support. In less than five years it has grown into a separate nonprofit organization called OneCommunity, with 30 full-time staff, a $13 million budget, a 10-square-mile wireless cloud, a multiprotocol label-switching network with several hundred miles of fiber covering 10 counties, 28 post-secondary institutions, eight museums and 75 health-care facilities. OneCommunity provides the member institutions with more affordable connectivity, but most use it to get more bandwidth rather than to reduce expenditures.
“We have always seen the network as a catalyst for other activities,” says OneCommunity chief technical officer Mark Ansboury. “It has become an economic development tool. We have been able to attract a significant amount of state and federal dollars into the region, and we have attracted businesses that are interested in working with the community because we have this resource.”
While Case Western is an anchor member of OneCommunity, and Gonick sits on the board, the university no longer runs it. Gonick says that to build a connected community you have to be willing to share the responsibilities and opportunities.
“If you are really trying to engage in a community network, trying to make the university the center of the universe is a guaranteed kiss of death,” he says. “No one institution can have ownership of a community network.”
MANpower Training Programs
Setting up a MAN has a direct academic benefit. For example, in 2005 the City College of San Francisco was awarded an Advanced Technological Education grant from the National Science Foundation. This grant facilitated the creation of a new course that teaches the principles of fiber optics and allows students to gain hands-on experience in fiber splicing, maintenance and operating characteristics.
“As much as there is an emphasis on wireless to individual laptops, there is still a need for fiber optics to aggregate all that traffic from the mobile devices,” says City College’s Network Manager Tim Ryan. “Fiber is not going to go away as a communications medium.”
OneCommunity is creating an intern workforce-development program with graduate students at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.
“Where we can help students get some real-world experience, we try to do that,” says Chief Technical Officer Mark Ansboury. “The university is a good feeder for the potential future workforce.”
Resources: Before setting up a metropolitan area network, it’s a good idea to look at other colleges’ experiences in this area. Here are some MAN sites that give network specs or have papers detailing their operations.
- Edinburgh and Stirling Metropolitan Area Network (EaStMAN, www.eastman.net.uk)
- Northwest Access Exchange (NWAX, www.nwax.net)
- OneCommunity (www.onecommunity.org)
- Portland Regional Education Network (PREN, www.pren.net)
- Rutgers University (RUNet, td.rutgers.edu)
While a university can run its own fiber, it is cheaper to look in the community for fiber that is not being used.
“The first step is to get to know your service providers and find out about all the installations of fiber that already exist,” says Don Westlight, manager of network infrastructure for Oregon Heath & Science University. “It may be possible to buy them outright or do joint-tenant leases, or even share conduits.”
Westlight says it is worth spending an extra year to fully explore the options in the area, conducting physical tours of other data centers and talking to government agencies to see if they have unused fiber.
“You don’t necessarily have to start with your local regional Bell carrier. There are lots of options out there,” he says. “The earlier you start looking, the better, because you can save a ton of money.”
Taking the LONG VIEW
“The basic idea was to implement a fiber infrastructure and then upgrade the electronics as technology improved over time,” says Tim Ryan, network manager for the City College of San Francisco. “We contracted the fiber for a period of 20 years, and we anticipate at least three to four generations of electronic equipment over that lifetime.”