C Spire expands state university research and development consortium

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C Spire is adding 15 community colleges to the Mississippi Optical Network (MissiON) just 26 months after completing a major technology upgrade of the state’s science and technology research and development arm – increasing capacity and expanding the size of the consortium.

C Spire is doubling the size of the network by adding the 15 community colleges across the state from the Delta to the Gulf Coast and the Mississippi Community College Board, which will boost capacity, increase internet speeds and reduce overall costs for participating institutions in the higher education R&D program.

Photo courtesy of C Spire.

Addition of the community colleges to the consortium has boosted capacity, reduced costs and provided the schools with diverse, fully redundant connections to commodity internet services, state university research programs and Internet 2 services in the future, according to C Spire CEO Hu Meena.

“As Mississippi’s leading broadband communications provider, C Spire is proud to provide innovative, leading-edge technology and the latest fiber optic infrastructure to help expand the size of the MissiON network and enable researchers to pursue comprehensive solutions to 21stcentury challenges,” Meena said.

“We’ve deployed a high performance, geographically diverse network and offer the community colleges speeds up to 100 Gigabits per second (Gbps) with plans to expand to 400 Gbps and beyond in the future,” Meena added. “This is a world-class network that fully supports MissiON’s important research objectives now and well into the future.”

Image courtesy of C Spire

Leveraging its 10,000 route miles of high-capacity fiber optic infrastructure, C Spire has designed the network to support more collaboration for the first time among the state’s research universities, regional universities and community colleges as well as access to resources in the ITS State Data Center and C Spire data centers in Jackson and Starkville.

Dr. Andrea Mayfield, executive director of the Mississippi Community College Board, said the transition to the MissiON network will help with expanded distance learning needs for more than 200,000 students in the community college system. “We’re excited about joining a robust network that meets our changing needs now and well into the future,” she said.

Mayfield said the state’s community colleges have been considering joining the consortium for some time weighing the costs, level of effort and potential benefits, but decided earlier this year after the public health emergency to move forward with plans to partner with C Spire on the project. “Our students, teachers and staff needed a fast, reliable solution.”

“Community colleges are an important cog in the state’s economic development and jobs engine – so we needed to work closely with C Spire to ensure that our addition to MissiON would help us achieve that goal,” said Jason Guntharp, Systems Engineer at Itawamba Community College and subcommittee chair for the integration efforts.

The latest expansion of the network comes after C Spire turned up enhanced connections in 2018 for the research arms at Ole Miss, the University of Mississippi Medical Center, Mississippi State, Jackson State, the University of Southern Mississippi, Stennis Space Center, the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers’ Engineering Research and Development Center and the national Internet 2 consortium.

Four regional universities – Delta State, Alcorn State, Mississippi University for Women and Mississippi Valley State – also were added to the MissiON network for the first time under a new state telecommunications contract awarded to C Spire in 2017 by the Mississippi Department of Information Technology Services (ITS).

As part of the earlier comprehensive upgrade, C Spire boosted bandwidth speeds up to 10 times faster for consortium partners, lowered overall latency, added a new interconnection with Internet 2, built new route diversity and redundancy to ensure optimal MissiON network uptime and eliminated a single point of failure from the previous network.

“Future-Proofing” MissiON Network

C Spire is continuing to work on efforts to make the state’s R&D network viable for the future. In 2018, C Spire and Nokia tested elements that could be developed into one of the nation’s first Terabit-speed research networks. “Future proofing this network is critical so that the state’s research institutions can successfully compete for grants and funding from federal agencies and private endowments well into the future,” Meena said. 

Terabit-speed research networks, which are 1,000 times faster than current 1 Gigabit per second (Gbps) services, would allow for the download in HD of an entire season of HBO’s popular Game of Thrones series in 1 second or the download of a full human genome map in less than 3 minutes.

“We’re pleased with C Spire’s efforts and their continuing work on such vital infrastructure, which allows our educational institutions, research entities and businesses to successfully compete on a national and global scale,” said David Sliman, CIO at the University of Southern Mississippi and a key liaison for the MissiON Network Advisory Council.

Lower Campus Internet Access Costs 

In another major change, C Spire moved commodity internet access for the over 210,000 students, staff and faculty at the state’s 15 community colleges directly to the MissiON core and provisioned it through multiple Tier 1 upstream internet service providers. This gives the educational institutions low-cost access – up to 80 percent lower than current rates.  

Mississippi exported nearly $11.9 billion in goods and services to 180 countries last year, supporting over 200,000 direct and indirect careers in the Magnolia State, according to statistics from the Industry Week and the U.S. Census Bureau, reinforcing the value of a strong state research and development ecosystem for job creation and economic growth.

For more information and background on C Spire’s expansion of the Mississippi Optical Network, visit www.cspire.com/mission. To learn more about the Mississippi Optical Network, visit https://mission.mississippi.edu/.

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