Blazing-fast Internet is dashing to colleges
By Tyler Dukes | Newsobserver.com | Sept. 16, 2011
When Larry Conrad took over as UNC-Chapel Hill’s technology chief more than three years ago, university staffers balked at his proposal to beef up the campus data backbone.
The one-gigabit network – 10 to 20 times faster than an average home Internet connection – wasn’t exactly slow. And they had little incentive to invest any further.
“They said, ‘Well, there’s not demand for higher bandwidth,’ ” said Conrad, the university’s vice chancellor for information technology and chief information officer. “We didn’t have people beating our doors down with demands for connectivity.”
Then Conrad learned how researchers were transferring their data. Bypassing the campus network, faculty employed the “sneakernet,” storing information on discs and drives that they’d physically ferry across campus from one office to another.
Since then, his staff has upgraded to a 10-gigabit network, capable of rocketing data along at 10 billion bits every second. The demand for that speed didn’t take long to show up.
“We’ve determined over the summer that’s completely turned around,” Conrad said. “Researchers are no longer sending graduate students around with stacks of CDs.”
Now Conrad – along with colleagues at Duke University, N.C. State University and more than 30 other universities across the country – hopes to spark that same need for speed beyond the campus borders with a project called Gig.U. The partnership aims to accelerate the rollout of next-generation networks by enticing private companies to invest in “test beds” that surround university communities.