P@W: What is the PSC, and what does it do?
Ken Goodwin, Director of Advanced Networking, PSC: The PSC was founded in 1986 and is based at Carnegie Mellon University. It provides government, industrial, and student researchers with access to some of the most advanced, high-performance computing, communications, and data-handling systems nationwide. Supported by several federal agencies, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and private industry, we also operate Three Rivers Optical Exchange (3ROX), a high-speed network hub that connects dozens of colleges, universities, and K-12 schools in Pennsylvania and West Virginia to online research and educational services networks, such as Internet2, that might otherwise be inaccessible to them because of high bandwidth costs or limited fiber availability. The institutions we work with rely on us for three very important things: access to our state-of-the-art offsite data storage facility; use of our supercomputers for advanced mathematical computations, scientific modeling, and large-scale data analysis; and high-speed, high-quality connectivity to the internet.
P@W: How does the PSC go about providing those services to the organizations it serves, and what challenges or roadblocks have you encountered along the way?
Goodwin: Typically, we leverage privately owned fiber to provide connectivity services to nearby urban and suburban schools. Providing connectivity to schools around the Pittsburgh area is rarely an issue, but for more rural institutions, it can sometimes be problematic because the fiber network infrastructure just isn’t there. To reach schools located farther away, such as some schools within the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Pennsylvania (AICUP)--Carlow University, Geneva College, Juanita College, La Roche College, Point Park University, Saint Francis University, Washington & Jefferson College, and Westminster College--we needed to find a service provider that had the fiber network reach to connect the schools with sufficient capacity.
P@W: How did you go about meeting that challenge?
Goodwin: After a competitive review of multiple service providers, we chose Comcast Business to provide Ethernet services because of its scalable service offerings, expansive network footprint, and competitive pricing. Comcast Business equipped us with a 10 Gigabits-per-second (Gbps) Ethernet Virtual Private Line (EVPL), and that has been allocated into 1 Gbps links to provide eight AICUP members with private network connections to the 3ROX hub. The new service enables students and faculty to directly access, via a private connection, the necessary educational technologies and data storage capabilities they need from PSC and 3ROX.
P@W: How is that solution working out for PSC and the schools you serve?
Goodwin: In addition to providing member institutions with general internet services, the EVPL direct connection provides these colleges and universities with access to research resources like PSC’s Data Supercell, which is a high-capacity, secure data storage solution, and to our supercomputers via a complimentary shared network. Comcast is giving us a way to provide these schools with the same caliber of connectivity that you would expect of a major research institution at a price that can fit within a smaller institution’s budget.