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Volume Meets Velocity with NSF-Backed UCScienceNet Connection

UC's new high-speed research network connection complements the university's first-of-its-kind partnership with the State of Ohio Computer Center.

Date: 6/23/2015 11:57:00 AM
By: Tom Robinette
Phone: (513) 556-1825
Photos By: Dottie Stover, UC Creative Services; provided

UC ingot   Today's world of big data demands big-time network connection speed.

And the University of Cincinnati has it.

Late last year UC signed a partnership with the State of Ohio Computer Center (SOCC) in Columbus, Ohio, for shared IT services. The deal gave the university access to the SOCC for secure hosting of and reliable backups for massive amounts of data, and warp speed business continuity in case of local outages – core systems could be up in moments, not hours.

Now, a new National Science Foundation-supported project builds upon this UC-State of Ohio partnership.
Student using computer
Access to top-quality technology is critical for UC researchers and the university in general. UC recently partnered with the State of Ohio Computer Center for shared IT services.

An NSF Campus Cyberinfrastructure – Infrastructure, Innovation and Engineering (CC*IIE) grant awarded to university IT staff and faculty researchers funded the development of a dedicated 100 gigabits-per-second connection to the State of Ohio’s network backbone that is specifically for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) researchers.

Testing is underway for what the university has dubbed UCScienceNet (UCSN). The connection between UC and the State of Ohio is expected to fully go live this summer. The power of ultra high-bandwidth data transfer will then be at the fingertips of researchers across campus in five STEM-focused areas. Researchers will be able to share information faster than ever with colleagues around the world via Ohio's links to other high-speed networks including Internet2, National Research and Education Networks (NREN) and XSEDE resources and services.

UC physics professor Michael Sokoloff, a co-principal investigator on the NSF grant, says the advantages are substantial. What once could take hours, will soon happen in real time.

"(UCScienceNet) will allow us to focus our efforts on analyzing the data rather than getting it here," Sokoloff says.

To put things in perspective, data equivalent to 80 million file cabinets filled with text can be transferred in less than a day to NREN via the Ohio Academic Resources Network (OARnet), the statewide fiber-optic backbone.

A “light up” event to celebrate the partnerships between UC and the State of Ohio is planned for June 30.


When it comes to backing up big data, many universities are faced with few and costly options. Among them: building/updating on-campus data centers or buying substantial data storage from unfamiliar providers.

Now, the UC-SOCC partnership for disaster recovery/business continuity delivers a solution that could serve as a trusted and resource-friendly model for universities nationwide.
regional map of UCScienceNet connection
UC researchers will be able to share information faster than ever with colleagues around the world via Ohio's links to other high-speed networks. (Tara Spacy/UC)

Diana Noelcke, assistant vice president of UCIT Enterprise Shared Services, says today's university network needs are far greater than even just a few years ago.  And that's why, she says, it's imperative to have a co-location site – such as SOCC – as backup for core information systems.

"The network is the heart of the university, and the data center is a major artery. If you lose that, the university is out of business for however long it takes. That's why it's so important to have a disaster recovery/business continuity center," Noelcke says. "We're at a place now where people are starting to understand networking and how the availability of those systems is critical to an operation."

Noelcke helped UC research its options for network co-location. She says when UC compared the alternatives to working with SOCC, the choice was obvious.

"When we gave the facts on SOCC – here's the data, here's what it would cost – we didn't even need to say this is what we'd recommend because the data was quite glaring."


UC is the first higher education institution in the state to partner with the SOCC as its site for disaster recovery and business continuity. But other Ohio schools and universities could soon take the same path. Noelcke suggests co-location with the SOCC "will be a huge model for all of the Inter-University Council of Ohio schools to follow." Though not a backup site, the Ohio State University already has opted to use the SOCC as its primary data center.

The SOCC's new university partnerships establish the Buckeye State as a forerunner in this type of shared IT service. Pankaj Shah, the executive director of the Ohio Supercomputer Center and OARnet, is a believer in the potential of what’s happening in Cincinnati and Columbus. He says the rest of the nation should take notice.

"Ohio is a leader in this type of collaboration, and the overall cost effectiveness of this approach in reducing the cost of data center construction should serve as a model for other states," Shah says.

Looking beyond Ohio, the university-state IT partnership is a formula that's ripe for adoption elsewhere. The need is there for schools nationwide as demands for digital services evolve nearly as quickly as the technology itself.
Nelson Vincent, Beverly Davenport, Pankaj Shah
From left, UC's Nelson Vincent and Beverly Davenport with Pankaj Shah, the executive director of the SOCC and OARnet.

IT partnership in higher education can take many forms, but UC's collaboration with the state-run SOCC has unique advantages. Chief among them is trust, says Jen Leasure, president and CEO of nationwide regional networking consortium The Quilt.

"While disaster recovery and business continuity services may be available commercially, folks in the research and education networking community feel more secure in having a trusted partner managing those types of services for them," Leasure says. "Keeping it in state often helps support that trust. It's not going across the country to a commercial entity that you may not know."

Leasure agrees that what UC has started with SOCC could be the beginning of something more.

"It would be a model for others to consider, especially with the environment that universities and regional networks find themselves in. Any time you have an opportunity to cost effectively share services, that's certainly appealing," Leasure says. "We operate in a collaborative, trusted environment in our research and education community which makes for natural partnerships."


For such a profound impact, the co-location project came at a modest price compared to the expense of brick-and-mortar construction or contracting a cloud storage vendor. Case in point, the UC Board of Trustees approved $5 million to formalize the deal with the SOCC late last year – a relative bargain when stacked against the price tags of other options. According to Nelson Vincent, UC vice president for information technology and chief information officer, the SOCC partnership comes at half the price of the national average for comparable services.

Noelcke agrees the savings are a significant advantage.

"It's a huge savings to us. You can't beat 50 percent less than the market out there," she says.

As part of Creating Our Third Century, a university-wide initiative to sharpen the vision of UC's institutional priorities, UC intends to build its resource base through strategic partnerships like this one with the SOCC.

UC also plans to leverage research as part of the Third Century strategy, and the SOCC partnership lends a significant boost, says William Ball, MD, UC vice president for research, senior vice president for health affairs and dean of the college of medicine. With the power of 100 Gbps data transfer at researchers' disposal, Ball says, partnerships like this can enhance opportunities to promote commercialization and job growth.

UC's Emily Baute and Dama Ewbank contributed to this report.