Emory Report
December 12, 2005
Volume 58, Number 14


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December 12 , 2005
Coming soon: High-speed network, high availability

Karen Jenkins is manager of client interaction for Academic and Administrative Information Technology.

Deploying a new enterprise network capable of meeting the performance demands of an increasingly complex and forward-thinking organization like Emory is one of the critical foundation issues currently being addressed by the Office of Information Technology.

The new network will provide the backbone for communicating across the campus and with colleagues around the country and the world. Whether in the research lab, the classroom or one of Emory’s health care facilities, this project will benefit all campus users by improving network capacity, performance, reliability and security.

By increasing network capacity from one gigabit to 10 gigabits, the new network core will be able to better support high-bandwidth, low-latency application demands such as medical imaging, high-definition video and central storage and backup. With a new, more flexible architecture, the network also will allow for cost-effective solutions to some long-standing challenges.

For example, it could allow Emory to quickly and cost effectively meet regulatory requirements (e.g., HIPAA restrictions) for transporting patient health information. In the past, this would have required an entirely new network with dedicated hardware and fiber-optic cable; with the new advanced core, we can create a secure virtual network using the same hardware, thereby reducing cost and expediting delivery.

Other improvements include eliminating any single point of failure, both internally and externally. Within the campus network, all of the critical network devices will be joined together in a cube-like structure—each connecting to at least two other devices. For Internet connections, the new design will use two distinct but pooled Internet service providers (ISPs). One router or ISP failure will not bring down network communications, and advanced networking software will allow in-service upgrades without disruptions in service. This same technology isolates software bugs and mitigates the risk of one software failure bringing down an entire router.

Implementation of the new core is in progress, under the leadership of Network Communications (NetCom) with executive sponsorship from Rich Mendola, vice president for information technology and CIO. NetCom is testing and installing the new routers in key locations across campus and developing a migration plan for moving links from the old network to the new advanced core. The goal: full deployment of the new core infrastructure by August 2006.

“In the field of life science and bioinformatics, there is a marked influence on sharing data and the use of remote resources,” said Walt Hultgren, chief information officer for Yerkes National Primate Research Center. “The equipment and software needed to manage large data sets is not cheap; you want to leverage as much as possible the things that other people are doing, both in the sense of sharing resources and learning from the data and information of others. It’s almost the cost of admission into world-class research.”

Recently awarded National Institutes of Health funding for the Biomedical Informatics Research Network (BIRN) initiative, Yerkes was selected to head up a scientific “test bed” for nonhuman primate research in collaboration with 21 U.S. universities who share brain-imaging data. Such collaborative research involves network sharing of large digital files, where a typical MRI or PET scan generates from 0.5 to 2 GB of data.

“The goal of the BIRN project is to serve as a data repository of biomedical (ranging from imaging to microarray) data and data-analysis software, to facilitate the sharing of data nationally and internationally, to enhance translational research, and to speed up scientific discovery,” said Timothy Duong, director of magnetic resonance research at Yerkes and associate professor of neurology. “Improving network resources will definitely have a big impact on whatever
we do.”