Higher education institutions in the New River Valley are collaborating to bring 21st century network access to the region. Radford University, New River Community College (NRCC), and Virginia Tech have jointly created a new internet service called a Multimedia Services Access Point (MSAP).

“The MSAP makes it possible for the schools to connect together at speeds millions of times faster than a typical home broadband uplink, enabling new forms of collaboration,” said Jeff Crowder, program director for strategic information technology initiatives at Virginia Tech.

MSAP also helps to control costs by letting Radford University and New River Community College share access to Virginia Tech’s high performance connection to national and international research networks.

The MSAP is located at the New River Community College’s New River Valley Mall site, which is geographically central to the participating schools. The community college's new game technology programs and engineering and computer-aided drafting and design curricula, which are based at the mall, are taking advantage of the high capacity access offered by the MSAP, as are other programs and support services.

"We're excited about the possibilities afforded by this joint initiative," said Jack Lewis, NRCC president. "Along with improved communications to support services for students at our mall site, this high speed connection will support the linking of learning communities around the area."

Lewis said such developments could include connections with regional high schools and other institutions, with the impact of the initiative strengthened upon completion of a new communications tower NRCC is installing at Mountain Lake in Giles County. "We foresee a wide range of benefits," Lewis said. "Possible applications include support for library exchanges, real-time videoconferencing, and other activities requiring high-speed connectivity. The potential impact is truly far reaching."

Radford University has established a direct fiber optic connection to link their Radford campus to the MSAP.

“With the MSAP, Radford University is able to significantly enhance access to the internet and to national research networks, meeting dramatically increased demands for bandwidth from students and faculty members in a cost effective manner,” said Danny Kemp, RU vice president for information technology. “Now, RU has a dedicated 150 megabit link for the university’s wireless and Residence Hall Internet traffic, while devoting another 155 megabit Internet link to faculty, staff, classrooms and distance education.”

Doubling capacity is just the tip of the iceberg for the MSAP. The schools can increase access capacity on the fly as needed to support experimental applications or to meet incremental shifts in demand for access to outside networks. The schools could use the capacity to share computing and data storage resources and provide backup services for one another. With dedicated fiber optics in place, the cost to increase capacity between the schools is very low and for access to outside networks served by the MSAP, they only have to pay incrementally for what they use.

Virginia Tech, working with the Citizens Telephone Cooperative of Floyd, Va., has established a direct fiber optic link from the Blacksburg campus to the MSAP. In addition, Virginia Tech is providing capacity on a fiber optic link between Blacksburg and McLean in the Washington area to connect the MSAP to national and global research networks, including National LambdaRail, the world’s most advanced network. The link between Blacksburg and McLean operates at a blistering 10 billion bits per second and is part of the VORTEX project initiated in 2006 by Virginia Tech and Verizon. LambdaRail is even faster offering about 160 times the capacity of the VORTEX link.

To get an idea of the speed of LambdaRail, consider that video applications like YouTube and Apple TV are now driving consumer demand for bandwidth. A 90 minute high definition movie might take two to eight hours to download over a home broadband connection according to Apple’s web site. At full bore, LambdaRail could transmit more than a quarter million such HD movies in less than a minute

LambdaRail does carry high end video applications used, for example, for medical research but it also interconnects the nation’s high performance computing and scientific research equipment. Collaborative, ground breaking projects like the Large Hadron Collider recently in the news require new national and international networks with the speed of LambdaRail. The MSAP brings LambdaRail’s capabilities to the New River Valley.

At McLean, Virginia Tech operates the Mid-Atlantic Terascale Partnership facility (MATP), one of the nation’s Tier 1 hubs for high performance networking. “This facility is the heart of the future internet interconnecting supercomputers, research labs, and emerging applications and services with the most advanced technology and the fastest speeds possible,” said Crowder. “The largest research universities are developing dedicated fiber optic connections to reach the hubs. But such dedicated facilities are beyond the reach of most colleges and universities, let alone K-12 and private schools.”

The MSAP project creates a virtual Tier 1 point in the New River Valley. “It provides an opportunity for area participants to connect with their own local fiber over relatively short distances as if they were located in one of the metropolitan centers,” said Crowder. “It brings National LambdaRail and all services available at the MATP hub to the New River Valley.”

“This joint collaboration will not only benefit Radford University as we expand our communications capabilities, but it will also provide opportunities in the future to work with our surrounding community to provide connectivity to the MSAP,” said Radford University’s Danny Kemp.

“The MSAP is a model to tie rural communities to tier one networks,” said Erv Blythe, vice president for information technology at Virginia Tech. “We have effectively created a beach head facility in the MSAP with a very large ‘pipe’ tying it to the Virginia Tech - LambdaRail hub in Washington, D.C. We’ve left it up to each participant to find their own fiber or wireless link to get to the MSAP. This is proving to be an efficient approach and it creates opportunities for participants to partner with local access providers to drive infrastructure development in their own back yard. In many areas, community broadband projects are already underway, such as the Virginia Tobacco Commission fiber optic projects in Southside and Southwest Virginia. The MSAP can add large value to these investments. It’s a neighborhood approach to broadband development,” Blythe said.

The MSAP is operated and managed by the Virginia Tech Operations Center (VTOC) which also manages NetworkVirginia and the Mid-Atlantic Terascale Partnership Aggregation Facility in McLean, Virginia providing advanced network services to more than one million scientists, researchers, educators, and students.

Also contact
New River Community College: Mark Rowh, Vice President for Planning and Advancement 540-674-3617, 866- 871-6744 (cell), mrowh@nr.edu

Radford University: Michael Hemphill, Director of University Relations, 540-831-5803, mhemphill@radford.edu


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