Indiana has long been known as "the crossroads of America," first as a portal for the countryís westward expansion in the 1800s, then as the heart of the interstate highway system in the mid-1900s.
And now, thanks to a pair of IUPUI alumni, the state once again finds itself at the crossroads of a 21st century transportation system: the information superhighway.
The two — Dave Jent and Michael Lucas — were instrumental in helping build I-Light, Indianaís statewide fiber optic network for research and collaboration among the stateís public and private colleges.
Today, the network they helped envision enables the rapid transfer of information to support research in disciplines ranging from medicine and the life sciences to the arts.
Their talents didnít go unnoticed by IUPUIís technology gurus: in fact, the two were snapped up by IUís telecommunications department in the 1980s — a decade when the Internet was in its early stages, and when private high-speed networks for research were gaining momentum.
During the 1990s, Jent, Lucas and other university technology experts were facing an increasing demand for more bandwidth for research that needed to share large files. The two men began studying ways to improve communications between IUPUI and IU-Bloomington, using their respective academic disciplines: Jent majored in electrical engineering, Lucas in computer technology.
"We were paying a lot of money for data circuits between IUPUI and IUB, and were finding it hard to buy circuits fast enough for the traffic we were starting to see," Jent says, referring to the universityís old circuit-based network, which had about the same capacity as 10 DSL connections. By comparison, todayís capacity is approximately 10,000 times greater.
Strapped with budget constraints, they were unable to purchase the capacity needed to expand the network further. In March 1998, the two decided to seek input from local vendors.
"We had discussions with Time Warner Telecom about buying fiber services from them, but soon found out there was no existing fiber between the two cities (Indianapolis and Bloomington) — or at least none anyone was willing to sell," adds Jent, the director of IUís Telecommunications-Infrastructures and Indiana GigaPOP operations.
"We continued to work with Time Warner to see if they could do the build (of a network)," says Jent, but eventually he asked the key question: ĎWhy donít we do the build ourselves.í.
Once the idea of the university building the network took root, Jacob Levanon (then the director of IU telecommunications) approached IU Bloomington Provost Michael McRobbie, then the IU vice president for information technology and chief information officer [and now 18th President of IU].
McRobbie sought the support of the late Gov. Frank OíBannon and other institutional partners. In 1999, with cooperation from Purdue, InteleNet and the state, the Indiana General Assembly provided $5.3 million in funds to build the high-performance optical fiber network that ultimately became I-Light. Its job was to connect IU, Purdue and IUPUI to each other and to the Internet2 Abilene Network, which deploys advanced network applications for research and higher education institutions across the country. IU was the purchasing agent for the I-Light project, and Jent was selected the project manager.
I-Light was the first optical fiber installation owned by a public university and helped IU begin to build its reputation in the external research community; when the university put in a bid to manage the Internet2 Abilene Network, it was chosen.
"As we became known for supporting Abilene, we were able to hire some very talented personnel," Jent says. "Building I-Light showed we had initiative, talented engineers, good management, and maybe most importantly, the support of state government."
Soon, more organizations wanted the university to manage their networks, providing support, information technology (IT) security, management and engineering not only for Internet2, but for National LambdaRail and several national and international high-speed networks via the universityís Global Research Network Operations Center (Global NOC).
Over time, these networks have increased in capacity and speed, and operate on multiple 10-gigabit and 1-gigabit connections, able to move the equivalent of more than 9.6 billion pages of text from coast to coast in an hour. This capacity, Jent says, is not available via commercial carrier. Lucas, the director of telecommunications operations and systems for IU, says he enjoys the fact that the university is always pushing the envelope of new technology.
"The skills we have developed in managing large networks put us in a position to continue to lead," he adds. Lucas, who is responsible for long-range planning and day-to-day management of telecommunications operations for the university, also credits part of the universityís success in telecommunications to his and Jentís ability to understand each otherís skills and management styles.
Mark Bruhn, IUís associate vice president for telecommunications, could not agree more. "If someone needs to know how to get from point A to point B with a network connection, regardless of where those two points are located geographically, Dave knows how, or knows someone who knows how to do it," Bruhn says. "Mikeís strength is in organizing telecommunications systems and operations. He has tremendous knowledge and a sixth sense about what a campus needs to support core missions.
"The two working together provide excellent coverage of the end-to-end aspects of telecommunications," Bruhn adds. "Indiana University would not be where it is in advancing campus services and involvement in national networking for higher education research without these two."