Network Deal to Serve as Research, Public Services Vehicle

A newly minted Oregon nonprofit is partnering with a California-based education and research network to better connect universities. The new deal will also help deliver public services, officials say.

by / October 11, 2019
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Two nonprofit high-speed fiber-optic conglomerates penned an agreement establishing a regional pool of resources between Oregon and California that could have far-reaching effects on public services in the Pacific Northwest.

The Corporation for Education Network Initiatives in California (CENIC) and Link Oregon partnered last month to expand fiber broadband network capabilities for research, education, nonprofits and government entities across the two states. Effectively, the affiliation provides the founding members of Link Oregon, consisting of the four research universities in the state and the Office of the State Chief Information Officer (OSCIO), with a direct line to CENIC’s membership, such as the University of California. The two organizations combined boast more than 10,000 miles of fiber-optic cables, with CENIC overseeing about 8,000 miles.

Steve Corbató, the executive director of Link Oregon, said the concept of joining the state’s research universities with OSCIO was first envisioned three years ago. The founding university partners include the University of Oregon (UO), Oregon State University (OSU), Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU) and Portland State University (PSU). Corbató said his nonprofit became officially legitimized earlier this year.

“I was around the networking space when the two large higher-education systems in California — the University of California system and the California State University system — made the decision to develop CENIC, and I watched that from afar,” Corbató said. “I saw the state of California make a very strategic decision that ‘we’re not going to have individual networks, but we’re going to combine our resources because California is a big state with a big population so let’s hunt like a pack.’”

He said the catalyst for combining CENIC and Link Oregon’s network capabilities emerged from university researchers in both states who began conversations on how to relay their data in a faster, more reliable way. The effort to find an appropriate solution facilitated the partnership between the two nonprofits, he said.

“That’s where the actual spark occurred, but I think the kindling was always there,” Corbató said. “The other reason, I think, is a recognition of the growing partnership of the west coast states. Oregon, Washington and California are working on climate issues and we face similar environmental challenges, like wildfire risk and seismic risk. I think we’re seeing an alignment of the states and networks respond to those political forces and collaboration trends.”

He said the mission of Link Oregon is to enhance the directives of each of its founding members, such as research, health care and public services through fiber-optic broadband connectivity across the state. While not an Internet service provider, the hope is that as the nonprofit improves infrastructure in rural communities, the byproduct will be an increase in residents’ access to high-speed broadband, he said. Link Oregon will also work with telecommunications companies to ensure underserved schools receive reliable Internet access to aid in student learning.

“The unique thing here is that OSCIO, which is the state government’s central IT shop, this is not a regulatory or oversight role, they’re involved as an active technology partner,” Corbató said. “They’re really strategic partners and I think the good news, for the state of Oregon, we’re focused on improving services and connectivity in a more cost-effective way for the taxpayers.”

He said OSCIO views Link Oregon as a critical part of the state’s IT modernization efforts and the nonprofit has a goal of installing 20-25 network access locations across the state.

OSCIO Chief Technology Officer Kurtis Danka said Link Oregon will re-engineer the state’s IT infrastructure and allow for agencies to connect to resources at higher bandwidths, which will also facilitate an easier transition to cloud-based solutions in the future.

“Link Oregon connects its partners (including state agencies) to a 100 [gigabits per second] core-network backbone,” Danka told Government Technology in an email. “In contrast, many agencies now connect to a 1 [gigabits per second] core-network backbone. Combining the higher-speed network backbone with higher-speed ‘last mile’ (the connection from agencies to the network core) connections will improve overall bandwidth for agencies so that they can conduct business in a much more efficient manner.”

He said that partnerships, both locally and beyond state borders, are the key to Link Oregon’s success as it will expand the capabilities and resources of the nonprofit.

Corbató agreed and said the partnership with CENIC positions Link Oregon for an optimal start.

“It’s been fun to be able to collaborate with more established networks and this is a very collaborative community,” Corbató said of the partnership with CENIC. “People share their lessons learned. We’re building this at a neat time and in some sense, I can’t think of a better state network for us to learn from than CENIC.”

The agreement gives Link Oregon direct access to CENIC’s networks, supercomputing facilities, and more, according to a release announcing the affiliation. Link Oregon is now the fourth entity in the West Coast Fiber Partnership, which includes Pacific Northwest Gigapop, Internet2 and ESnet.

“As traffic continues to grow on R&E networks, it is essential that we partner with one another to keep pace with the research demands of global-scale instruments, multi-institution collaborations, and access to massive datasets,” CENIC President and CEO Louis Fox said in a prepared statement.

For Oregonians, the affiliation and the work of Link Oregon means a more connected government, Danka said.

“Collectively, OSCIO, the state, and the research institutions are in a unique position to create a network core infrastructure that can benefit all in a manner that is unachievable for any one member to achieve on their own,” Danka said. “This gives us the unique opportunity to share and pool resources.”

Patrick Groves Staff Writer

Patrick Groves is a staff writer for Government Technology. Previously, he worked for five years at newspapers in Washington state, Idaho, Florida and Northern California. He has a Bachelor’s degree in communication from Washington State University and lives in Northern California.

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