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New Networking

Last month, the National Science Foundation announced that it would spend $5.9 million over four years to assist minority-serving higher education institutions in bringing the latest computer networking technology to their campuses and establishing the management and staffing skills necessary to create and sustain these technologies.
Known as the NSF Advanced Networking Project with Minority-Serving Institutions (AN-MSI), the initiative will be managed by Educause, the nation’s leading higher education information technology organization. The grant award marks the first major foray by Educause into assisting minority institutions with their information technology development and infrastructure.
“We’re going to let the schools tell us what they want and then develop a program to address those needs,” says David Staudt, the Educause networking outreach director.
The program award, announced during the annual Educause conference held in Long Beach, Calif., will be administered on behalf of historically Black colleges and universities, American Indian tribal colleges and Hispanic-serving institutions.
Educause is working closely with the American Indian Higher Education Consortium, or AIHEC; the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, or  (HACU; the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education, NAFEO;  The College Fund; and the National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges, or NASULGC.
“This is a great opportunity for HBCUs, especially small HBCUs, to make their networks and network capacity more competitive,” says Ramon Harris, executive director of the Executive Leadership Foundation’s Technology Transfer Project, which coordinates information technology development among a consortium of 12 HBCUs.  
Staudt says that with hundreds of institutions targeted by the NSF award the participating schools will have to develop a consensus on what should be funded. He says coordinating committees representing each of the three school groupings are being developed so that they will each survey their respective member schools.
“This is seed money. This is organizing money,” Staudt says, explaining that funds will be funneled toward projects that will help institutions attract additional investment from public and private sources. 
Part of the program is subcontracted to EOT-PACI (the Education, Outreach, and Training Partnership for Advanced Computational Infrastructure), which is a joint effort of two NSF partnerships, the National Partnership for Advanced Computational Infrastructure in San Diego, Calif., and the National Computational Science Alliance (NCSA) in Urbana-Champaign, Ill.
Comprising the larger AN-MSI Project Team are: EDUCAUSE officials, Mark Luker, principal investigator, Staudt, project manager, and Krystal Bullers; and EOT-PACI representatives Dr. Roscoe Giles of Boston University and Allison Clark of NCSA.  Dr. Philip Long of Yale University serves as advisor to the project team.
The AN-MSI project targets the following areas:
o Executive Awareness, Vision, and Planning: Presentations to and discussions with presidents of the colleges and universities, to assist them in visualizing and planning for effective integration of the Internet in their institutions, to provide updates on the progress of the project, and to continue to broaden the base of participation in the project.
o Remote Technical Support Centers: Implementation of remote technical support centers as a way to alleviate the acute shortage of qualified campus networking personnel, and to provide services, such as problem detection, security consultation and virus protection.
o Local Network Planning: Technical assistance with redesigning and modifying the campus network architecture.
o Local Consulting and Training: Workshops for campus networking personnel to assure their capability to work with the remote technical support centers and to maintain and operate the campus networks.
o Satellite/Wireless Pilot Projects: Installation of several prototype satellite/wireless Internet connectivity pilots where land-based connections are unavailable or unaffordable.
o New Networking Technologies: Prototype installation of new, innovative wired networking technology which could lead to significant improvement of price/performance by other MSI institutions at their initiative.
o Grid Applications: Inclusion of a small number of institutions in a program of high performance computing applications and collaborations enabled by the national technology grid. The EOT-PACI team is conducting this effort.
Harris of the Technology Transfer Project says considerable value can be realized by the institutions participating in cooperative ventures, such as a remote network technical center supporting numerous schools. By cooperating in consortiums, Harris says schools can obtain a higher level of network support for the same amount of dollars they are already spending.  
“I see [collaboration on] network support services as the wave of the future. Over a period of five years, support services for a computer network are going to cost you more than the network,” Harris says.                  

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