Published February 20, 2015
What began as a project to link UB’s multiple, geographically dispersed campuses has turned into a very successful regional collaboration for Western New York’s public service organizations.
Built on UB’s leadership, other Buffalo educational affiliates and forward-thinking organizations have joined together to share the costs of a dispersed and redundant fiber optic network.
The incentive for building the fiber optic network can be traced back to 1990 when UB leased fiber optic strands from a local cable television company. When the contract expired after 10 years, the new lease amount increased 2,000%. Instead of signing another lease, UB hired a regional engineering firm to construct the University’s first private fiber optic network between the North and South Campus, and extending into downtown Buffalo.
"Partnering is in UB’s nature,” said Mark Deuell, Director of Network and Classroom Services (NCS), part of UB Information Technology. "We were looking for a pathway, a way to get cable from one place to another, so we worked with NFTA to use their pipeline downtown in the subway tunnels." In addition, UB negotiated agreements with the City of Buffalo and pole attachment and conduit use agreements with Verizon and National Grid.
Completed in 2001, the first phase of the UB Regional Fiber Network cost approximately $1 million. Funding came partially from a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant, in partnership with the Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute, as well as UB's Operational Savings.
What started out with just a few partners has now grown to include SUNY Buffalo State, Canisius, Daemen, and Erie Community College, the New York State Department of Transportation, the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority (NFTA), Erie County, and many area hospitals.
A fiber optic strand is a glass fiber stretched thinner than a human hair. Each cable is composed of many strands. Fiber optics are especially fast because they have enormous capacity to transmit data with very little signal loss.
Since UB only needed two of many strands, this gave the university the opportunity to offer extra capacity to members of the newly developing consortium. In UB’s financial model, consortium organizations pay to build the tributary from UB’s main trunk out to their location. The majority of the cost of a fiber optic network is in installing the cable versus activating the data signal. Each partner benefits as others continue to share in the network, and fiber optic cable has a lifetime of at least 20 years.
UB runs a diverse route that ensures the network is up almost 100% of the time. Matt Marino, Telecommunication Engineer with NCS, added, “UB has multiple pathways and connections from any one point, which gives us the diverse route. We partnered with DOT to allocate fibers on their pathway, giving us access to alternate routes.”
UBIT deploys best practice solutions and remains adaptable even when unforeseen problems arise. Although our fiber cables meet the recommended temperature requirements, we are taking extra precautions by sealing the end of manhole ducts with a waterproof barrier. Deuell added, “UB’s cables have been frozen for years and thawed. These cables are made with a gel that is waterproof, which protects against this very issue. We actually have manholes in the Ellicott Complex that have to be pumped continuously when we do preventive maintenance.”
There have been two outages due to unforeseen issues. A construction company dug up UB-owned fiber optic cable near Allen Street, damaging a cable, and a frozen cable caused another outage due to extreme cold weather conditions. Within a few hours, UB was able to re-route Internet traffic and restore service.
As Buffalo continues to develop its exciting future and partnerships with the University grow, UBIT expects to attract potential affiliates to join the UB’s Regional Fiber Optic network. The economics behind forming this consortium more than 15 years ago will continue to pay dividends to Buffalo and Western New York into the future.