Montana State University

MSU triples internet bandwidth, hosts national conference on research networking

August 7, 2017 -- MSU News Service

Montana State University has more than tripled its available network bandwidth, providing new opportunities for students, faculty and researchers, and now MSU is host to a national conference of the top minds in research networking. MSU Photo by Adrian Sanchez-Gonzalez

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Montana State University has completed an upgrade to its campus network, more than tripling the bandwidth available for students, faculty and, especially, researchers.

The upgrade will make sure MSU has the network resources it needs for the future, said Jerry Sheehan, the university’s vice president for information technology.

“The network is the foundation for our campus digital infrastructure,” Sheehan said. “It allows us to provide cloud-based tools for collaboration, online learning and our business environments, while also acting as the lifeblood for research. Our new network capacity meets not only today’s need, but prepares us for the years to come.”

Since 2013, MSU has grown its network bandwidth from 10 gigabits per second to a whopping 100 gigabits per second with this latest upgrade.

Typically, MSU’s network usage — everything from researchers transferring data between laboratories to students streaming video in the residence halls — peaks at about 15 gigabits per second, he said. But that usage has been steadily growing for the past decade, primarily because students, faculty and staff have more internet-connected devices than ever before, relying on them for the learning, discovery and outreach work of the university.

Having more bandwidth than you need may sound like overkill, but Sheehan said it’s part of making sure that MSU’s aspirations in the digital era aren’t limited by its network. The mission of a land-grant institution, from research enabled by sensors in the field of the agricultural research centers to online classrooms for lifelong learning, requires the transmission of digital data, he said.

“This is the ante to be in the data-intensive world we live in,” he said. “It ensures we can do more, and that everything we can do is done as fast as possible.”

As a bonus, Sheehan said, the bandwidth upgrade was accomplished without increasing MSU’s costs, and it locked in the price for the next decade.

Another benefit of the upgrade, Sheehan said, is that it lets MSU share its bandwidth with other MSU campuses, in particular MSU Billings, vastly increasing that campus’s capacity and making interconnected services between the campuses run more smoothly.

Michael Barber, chief information officer at MSU Billings, said his university is collaborating on a new 10 gigabits-per-second connection between the Billings and Bozeman campuses. 

“Faculty in the sciences and business have shown interest in new sources of big data, nationally available analytic tools and the ability to access high-performance computing facilities both nationally and in Bozeman,” said Barber. “The new network extends the university network along the Interstate 90 corridor connecting the universities in the larger Montana cities in support of the state’s educational and research activities.”

Hard on the heels of the upgrade, MSU this month is hosting more than 150 of the country’s top minds in research networking for a two-day conference.

The focus of the National Research Platform Workshop, to be held Aug. 7-8, will be to discuss building a new sort of information superhighway focused on moving research data between scientists at speeds 1,000 times faster than today’s inter-campus networks.

“We’ll be the epicenter of brainpower for the nation for research networking for scientific needs,” Sheehan said.

The conference is being put on by the Pacific Research Platform, a partnership of universities and research institutions in the western U.S., including MSU, the University of California San Diego, Caltech and Stanford.

The five-year partnership wants to turn the regional information-sharing network they’ve built along the Pacific coast into a regional and, possibly, national system to help researchers cooperate better across the country.

Larry Smarr, director of the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology and principal investigator for the Pacific Research Platform, said setting up such a network means making sure that all campuses and partners can participate.

“The Pacific Research Platform partnership with Montana State and its lean cyberinfrastructure model allow us to make sure that the approaches developed are flexible and scalable, allowing the long tail of science to be empowered by our efforts,” Smarr said.

For more information contact Jerry Sheehan at or 406-994-2525.

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