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Monday, February 14, 2005

Southeastern N.C. Network Upgrade Boosts Education and Economic Opportunities

Collaboration Among Regional Universities, Statewide University System and MCNC Enhance N.C. Research and Education Network

A regional collaboration of three University of North Carolina campuses – UNC Wilmington, UNC Pembroke and Fayetteville State University – is providing advanced networking capabilities to boost economic development in the southeastern region of the state.

Called Southeast Education and Research Networking (SERNet), the collaboration provides network upgrades to each campus that offer enhanced research, education, and high-performance computing resources that are at least four times faster than the previous infrastructure.

NCRENThe collaboration consolidates resources to help pay for equipment serving the campuses, resulting in a savings of more than $400,000. The foundation for the initiative is an upgrade of the southeastern portion of the statewide North Carolina Research and Education Network (NCREN), developed and operated by MCNC in partnership with the University of North Carolina and its 16-campuses.

Other public and private schools, colleges, government agencies and non-profit organizations in the area also will benefit from the NCREN network infrastructure enhancements that enable better collaboration and sharing of information with each other and the rest of the world. Subsequently, other parts of the state will benefit from improved access to expertise and resources throughout southeastern North Carolina.

Robert Tyndall, vice chancellor for information technology at UNC Wilmington and the initial convener of SERNet, noted that work is already underway to establish cost structures and equipment replacement models that may allow schools, government agencies and health care agencies to utilize the new network services.

The enhancements to the statewide network are part of a four-year, $8 million initiative led by the University of North Carolina and MCNC to provide statewide optical networking for faster, more reliable Internet service, video- and Web-based distance learning, and access to national research networks including Internet2 and National LambdaRail. These new advanced networking capabilities benefit multiple activities at each campus, including research, classroom education, administrative services and extension services.

“The enhancements to NCREN in Southeastern North Carolina are vital for fast access to resources throughout the state and beyond,” Tyndall said. “In addition, the improved network capabilities will help us educate the next generation of computing professionals. ”

Through NCREN, widely regarded as one of the nation’s finest research and education networks, MCNC and North Carolina universities established the nation’s first broadcast-quality, interactive video network for distance learning in 1984, and then, in 1999, developed the nation’s first Internet-based, broadcast-quality video network for distance learning. Last year, more than 50,000 students and faculty used NCREN’s video network, which delivers more than 100 hours of classes, conferences and seminars each week.

Today, NCREN serves more than half a million Internet users every day at speeds more than 2,400 times faster than broadband cable modems and 66,000 times faster than typical dial-up Internet connections. Additionally, the enhancements to NCREN allow individual campuses increased flexibility and the ability to research, explore and pilot activities requiring superior network performance. Multi-point distance-learning classes, remote language instruction using high-resolution videoconferencing, and access to scientific models and instruments around the world all require fast, reliable and intelligent networks.

"The SERNet consortium and the NCREN enhancements provide high performance Internet connections for our universities, giving us a much bigger Internet pipeline,” said Maurice Mitchell, UNC Pembroke associate vice chancellor and chief information officer. “This gives UNC Pembroke the ability to conduct higher performance computing than was previously possible."

“As a result of this consortium, Fayetteville State University has a robust network connectivity on par with that of research institutions like UNC-Chapel Hill, Duke University, N.C. State University and East Carolina University, enabling our faculty and students to have rapid access to research and educational content around the world,” said Nick Ganesan, chief information officer at Fayetteville State University. “This infrastructure upgrade is critical for FSU's growth in today's technology-driven world given our new initiatives for distance learning and educational partnerships with institutions abroad.”

Robyn Render, UNC vice president for information resources and chief information officer, said, “Through these southeast region enhancements and the statewide improvements to NCREN, the 16 campuses of the University of North Carolina will be better positioned to take full advantage of advanced optical networking capabilities and high-performance computing technologies, which will continue to foster greater educational opportunities and economic development in eastern North Carolina. It is also another fine example of how the universities collaborate to identify cost-saving opportunities.”

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