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University Taps Dark Fiber for Online Academics, Healthcare

Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center turns to a new network architecture and dark fiber to support the academic and healthcare needs of dozens of regional campuses and clinics.

Texas Tech University Health Sciences found that it was not alone in its pursuit of higher speeds, wider pipelines and greater reliability. Indeed, a large number of academic institutions in Texas wanted better data throughput and higher network speeds for both education and research. These institutions pooled their buying power to lease dark fiber, providing network speeds 10 times better than most of the organizations were getting.

"Today we have 10Gbit circuits on our wide-area network that both the health sciences center in Lubbock and Texas Tech University's various academic campuses use," said Shaw. "Health Sciences and the university work closely together, and we also partner with other universities in the region."

To date, Texas Tech University Health Sciences has seen a 40% savings from its network collaboration with other universities--a savings that is continuing to grow with the network buildout.

"The new ring architecture also gives us network redundancy that we didn't have before," said Shaw. "We formerly operated on a hub-and-spoke network architecture, where the hub was a potential single point of failure. Today our network payloads are carried on diverse paths in the ring architecture that link both the health sciences facilities in Lubbock and the various Texas Tech university campuses. This ring architecture provides redundancy, failover and greater reliability in our network."

Going forward, Health Sciences wants to segment the network so it can implement different security zones for academic and healthcare users.

"Like most academic systems, we have had a secured perimeter, but our network has fundamentally been open," said Shaw. "The next phase of network security is to segment our network security based upon user requirements. In healthcare, for example, there are strict security guidelines that HIPAA mandates. These guidelines differ substantially from the more open network security standards of academia. We need to segment our network, and to put in place different security policies and protocols for these two sets of users."

Now that he has been through several major phases of network building, what recommendations does Shaw have for others undertaking similar projects?

"Especially in the academic environment, you need to first build support for the project before you tackle it," said Shaw. "This requires constant communication with all of your user groups and active engagement with the users in defining network requirements and how the network will work. Academic leaders also need to understand the strategic direction and goals of the network."

Shaw added that it's important for organizations to take their time.

"One thing they should know is that a project of this magnitude doesn't happen overnight," he said. "We want to implement the network in a series of smaller step pilot projects and do our debugging at this point--because by the time the entire network gets rolled out, there should only be minor technical issues."

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