Montana State University

MSU strengthens networking bandwidth and saves $100,000 per year

September 11, 2015 -- MSU News Service

MSU has upgraded the university's bandwidth to 30 gigabytes per second, a move that has also saved the university more than $100,000 per year in networking costs. MSU photo by Kelly Gorham.

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Eighteen months ago, Montana State University’s Internet bandwidth was 3 gigabyte per second — a pretty good speed for streaming movies at home but low for a growing university.

Late last year, MSU recommitted to a partnership with the Pacific Northwest Gigapop, PWNG, a nonprofit networking group that serves research and educational organizations.

The move not only upgraded MSU’s bandwidth to 30 gigabytes per second but also saved the university more than $100,000 per year in networking costs, said MSU Chief Information Officer Jerry Sheehan.

The bandwidth is shared across the Bozeman campus — providing access to information resources for classes, moving administrative data to support MSU’s four campus business system needs, and meeting the needs of the students who live on campus.  In 2015, those uses resulted in a peak-networking load that was about 3.5 gigabytes a second.  Montana State’s investment in additional networking bandwidth is to handle data produced by campus researchers. 

Moving data around has become vital as the costs of scientific instruments that produce large amounts of it have dropped. Once out of reach, data-heavy gear such as MRI machines and electron microscopes can now be afforded with grant funding, and that means the amount of data produced by MSU has exploded, Sheehan said.

“For way too long, people have talked about research computing like the computation is the only thing that is important,” Sheehan said. “Equally important now, and even more so in the future will be dealing with large amounts of data.”

Climate modeling at the university is just one example. Ben Poulter, assistant professor in ecology, and his doctoral student, Kristen Emmett, said their computer simulations of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem can produce 900 gigabytes of data — each.

With the bandwidth upgrades, as well as upgrades to the networking equipment on campus, Sheehan hopes to avoid the situation — once quite common — where researchers like Poulter and Emmett might find it faster to load data onto a hard drive and mail it to someone rather than wait for an online file transfer to finish.

Under MSU’s current relationship with PNWG, the university will have more than enough bandwidth to handle all on-campus use and will provide substantial flexibility for growth in the next five-years, Sheehan said.  

“All of this, while saving $100,000 per year,” Sheehan said. 

The goal of these investments according to Sheehan is, “to provide our students and researchers with the ability to share their insight with anyone in the world at the speed of light.”

Jerry Sheehan, MSU chief information officer, (406) 994-2525 or jsheehan@montana.edu