November 10, 2003

C.U. Links to Ithaca Schools

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Earlier this month, engineers completed a project to link the network of the Ithaca City School District with that of Cornell University. The fiber-optic interconnection between the two networks is expected to enhance learning opportunities for the ICSD and to increase the frequency of collaboration between local schools and the University when it will come into use within a month.

“There’s a lot of collaboration between the school district and the faculty here at the University already,” explained Jason Rhoades, director of network and communication services at Cornell. “Now that we’ve created this link, it will probably foster more collaboration.”

Rhoades and his team at Cornell Information Technologies were largely responsible for the planning and coordination of this effort with the ICSD. While the fiber connection is expected to provide major benefits to Ithaca schoolchildren, it was not an especially difficult undertaking.

“The fiber network connection was facilitated by the proximity of a piece of Cornell’s fiber network that runs from Cornell to the [Lake Source Cooling] plant and across Ithaca city school property, so we really only had about a hundred meters of fiber to install to actually effect the connection,” said Michael Pliss ’80, director of information and instructional technology for the ICSD.

Thanks to the minimal amount of cable that was needed, the project also required relatively little time and labor. Pliss explained that planning for the project has been going on for about a year, and the actual construction phase was started and completed within the last couple of months. Currently, engineers are testing the system, which should be available for general use within a month’s time.

The optical fiber connection will benefit teachers and students in Ithaca city schools by giving them ultra-fast access to Cornell’s internal computer resources.

“The major issue here is that the school district can access anything on the Cornell network that anyone else can, except the difference is that their connection is now at gigabit speeds,” Rhoades said. “They have access to all the same things they had before at a higher speed, plus now that we have a direct connection to them, if there are specific needs to enable certain applications or collaborative efforts to work even better, we have a lot more tools available to enable those things.”

Pliss noted that this is a nearly 100-fold increase in data transfer speed, and he is looking forward to the benefits that such a connection will provide.

“This [high-speed connection] will be particularly useful for tapping into the multimedia content that’s available up at the University — distance learning, libraries, digital recordings and more,” he said.

Pliss mentioned videoconferencing as an important potential benefit, citing the Global Seminar Series in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, a multinational videoconferencing effort that focuses on agriculture and the environment, as an example of one such program that Ithaca students could benefit from.

The proximity of the ICSD network to that of Cornell also helped to keep costs for this project at a minimum.

“It wasn’t expensive at all, really,” Pliss said, adding that costs were shared between the University and the school district.

“We both kind of pooled our resources as far as labor and materials,” Rhoades added.

Rhoades also ensured that the ICSD’s new access to Cornell’s internal network will in no way affect its performance and speed for users within the network.

“All of our 280 buildings are connected via fiber cable at gigabit speeds, which is extremely impressive. Because we have such a robust network, plugging the school district into the network isn’t going to create any contention issues,” he said.

Pliss, who had spoken to President Jeffrey S. Lehman ’77 about the optical fiber interconnection during its construction, was impressed that he seemed “very much aware” of the project. He found it encouraging that Lehman is committed to connecting classrooms for enhanced learning among both college students and elementary and secondary school students.

Archived article by Andrew Beckwith