CORVALLIS - When network engineers flip the switch this Monday (June 28) on a new fiber-optic connection, Oregon State University will have increased its bandwidth capability - especially for critical research - by a quantum leap.
But the story-within-a-story is even more impressive: To make that connection work, the university literally went out and created its own 20-mile stretch of fiber, which it now owns and can lease out to others. Ownership also allows OSU to significantly expand its own capacity for the future.
"Expanding our bandwidth capability is absolutely critical to attracting major national and international research projects," said OSU President Ed Ray, who saw the benefits of increased capacity at The Ohio State University, where he served as provost until 2003.
"What makes the accomplishment so exceptional here is that our people used their entrepreneurial spirit to get things done," he added.
OSU's bandwidth to the Internet and Internet 2 is limited, and several years ago Oregon State began investigating the cost of using a traditional telecommunications company to connect with the Pittock Internet Exchange in Portland, which would give OSU greater bandwidth and international connectivity.
"For a circuit that would give us speeds in excess of a gigabit per second, we were told it would cost us about $564,000 a month, or $6 million-plus a year," said Jon Dolan, associate director of Network Services at OSU. "That's more than half of our budget for Information Services."
Then one spring day in 2002, Curt Pederson, OSU's vice provost for Information Services got a visit from an old colleague named Ben Doty, who was heading a new nonprofit cooperative called NoaNet Oregon, which was established to build and operate "public purpose" data networks. NoaNet uses Bonneville Power Administration fiber to build connectivity to rural Oregon and Washington.
"As it turns out, the nearest BPA access was 20 miles to the east, along the I-5 corridor," Pederson said. "NoaNet was looking to expand to Corvallis at the same time we were looking to hook into a major network. Thus began a beautiful friendship."
OSU paid for the infrastructure development of building the 20-mile connection at a cost of about $504,000 - or less than one month's estimate with a commercial carrier. NoaNet constructed the fiber plant, and will manage the plant and provide any necessary maintenance.
NoaNet also has agreed to lease any extra capacity from OSU, and a portion of those profits will pay for right-of-way access fees to the City of Corvallis. Others will benefit from the new connectivity, too, OSU officials say.
"The path of the fiber goes right by the new research facility at Hewlett Packard that houses the Oregon Nanoscience and Microtechnologies Institute, as well as OSU's Hyslop Farm," Dolan said, "so we were able to connect those facilities. "This will also increase the capacity for the City of Corvallis, Benton County, and the Education Service District, and possibly others in the future."
Initially, OSU will "light" the fiber to a speed of 2.5 gigabits per second, which is about 2,500 times the capacity of the fastest connection a resident may have at home. But the capacity is much greater, says Dolan, who points out that the fiber-optic system can be broken down into 16 or 32 different wavelengths, each with the capacity for speeds of up to 10 gigabits a second.
"The equipment to do that is expensive, but the price goes down significantly every month," he said. "We have the infrastructure in place for the next generation of Internet2. We'll just have to work out the politics and the money." One of the first beneficiaries of the new system may be international researchers who will be able to perform real-time experiments at OSU's Tsunami Wave Basin, the largest tsunami research facility in the world. That kind of virtual connectivity was a critical component of the university's $4.8 million grant from the National Science Foundation to create the research facility.
OSU's Open Source Lab also will benefit from the increased bandwidth, according to Pederson. OSU has developed one of the most sophisticated, well-used distribution sites in the world for Open Source products, which are shared, modified, and improved by developers who create reliable software based on certain open standards.
"The use of Open Source guarantees that data ownership and access are not restricted to a single provider," Pederson said. "There is a thriving Open Source community out there that relies on our ability to distribute Open Source products, and we are becoming known around the world for that service. "And now it's about to get better," he added.