Chicago's Columbia College Lights Up Dark Fiber

Network Infrastructure Features

Chicago's Columbia College Lights Up Dark Fiber

By Paula Bernier, Executive Editor, TMC  |  January 01, 2012

This article originally appeared in the January issue of INTERNET TELEPHONY magazine.

Technology is always moving forward, and we continue to make amazing gains in connectivity, devices and interoperability. At the same time, it’s sometimes surprising just how low tech things can be behind the curtain.

For example, while early video on demand implementations allowed users to order movies from home with a click of the remote control, these same systems often relied on individuals on the network side to plug in the movies manually to the VoD servers. This mode of operation was dubbed sneaker net.

Until recently, students at Chicago’s Columbia College, the largest private media and arts institution in North America, relied on their own version of sneaker net. In this case, it involved students hoofing it through the Windy City with hard drives to get their big media files from one school building to another. This method of transport was necessary because the files generated by the college’s film, photography, video game and other students often were too hefty to be sent over Columbia’s connections, which ranged between 10mbps and 300mbps.

But all that’s changing due to a new solution Columbia and its vendors CDW (News - Alert)-G and Sidera Networks have put in place. The 10gig network, which had its initial turn up last month and should be complete in February, will deliver 500mbps connectivity to all of the college’s administrative and classroom buildings, which number 15 and span a distance of 10 blocks. If additional bandwidth is required, the network can burst on demand without the need to provision new hardware, and connectivity speeds can be increased across the board if required.

“The majority of our academic programs are digital in nature, and students need to be able to access and move large files over the network,” says Bernadette McMahon, associate vice president and chief information officer at Columbia, which has 12,000 students and more than 2,000 academic staff. “On our older network, students have to physically walk large audio and media files between buildings. With dark fiber, students can move and access their course files with a click of a mouse from any building on campus.” 

Richard Piotrowski, director of infrastructure for information technology at Columbia, explained that the college’s partner CDW-G tapped Sidera Networks (News - Alert) to provide the dark fiber and helped Columbia equip that infrastructure with the gear to light up the 10gig network. Sidera is also Columbia’s new Internet service provider. But Columbia owns and manages the 10gig network.

Sidera already had in Chicago’s South Loop the necessary fiber for the job, but as of late October, when CDG-W and Columbia sources spoke with INTERNET TELEPHONY, Sidera was digging in the streets to get fiber all the way into the college’s buildings.

Considering that digging was involved, you’d think that this job might have been a tough one to justify financially. But, in fact, the job involves a pretty quick return on investment (within three years), according to Andy Lausch, vice president for higher education at CDW-G. Columbia’s McMahon adds that the college expects to reap $300,000 to $400,000 in annual savings over three years. So not only does Columbia get much higher bandwidth and lower costs out of the deal, she says, it also gets a more redundant system.

Tony Bloom, vice president of wholesale at Sidera Networks, explains:  “Columbia College Chicago built its dark fiber solution in a ring topology, which independently connects each building to provide the college with built-in redundancy.”  That means if one section of the fiber is cut, causing an outage, the college’s network technology automatically will re-route data around the ring, ensuring that the network remains up and eliminating the risk of data loss. 

Before moving to the new network, Columbia relied primarily on AT&T’s (News - Alert) GigaMAN and OPT-E-MAN services, and an array of Internet service providers to serve the college’s various buildings, says Piotrowski, noting that required his staff to manage many service provider accounts separately.

Columbia’s McMahon says that CDW-G made the process of implementing and moving to the new solution quick and painless.

Edited by Tammy Wolf


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