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NJEdge Benefits Its Membership by Expanding EdgeNet’s Digital Footprint

By January 28, 2019 No Comments

From the beginning of NJEdge, the non-profit technology consortium has cared about their digital footprint and how the evolving footprint would impact members. These steps began back in 1997, when a technology ecosystem was developed and grown into what is now an optical fiber network designed to evolve with everyone’s needs. Today, EdgeNet employs a fully redundant ring network topology and is always looking for ways to expand its footprint, including the ability to provide a physical foundation for New Jersey’s next generation research network.

“Our investment has paid off over the years; as bandwidth consumption grew, there was little need to augment the existing platform,” Principal Network Architect Jim Stankiewicz said. “Our footprint has expanded over the years, which has enabled us to provide services where we previously could not, and I expect this trend to continue.”

Stankiewicz has been involved with EdgeNet from the beginning and has defined the technical architectural strategy of the network, based on the priorities and goals of the community. Features of the network’s design include redundant optical nodes and path routing devices at each of the four optical nodes, which are located in Newark, New Brunswick, Wall Township, New Jersey and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Stankiewicz has designed the network to sustain EdgeNet’s ability to provision 100Gb and higher capacity circuits, allowing the network to meet the increasing demand for growth.

This expansion is always at the forefront and one of the reasons why Stankiewicz has been working to establish the NJEdge network as a best-in-class network. The NJEdge team has completely rethought how to build carrier-grade networks.

“Our backbone has traditionally supported the academic enterprise with stability and high availability as the top priority,” Stankiewicz said. “A research network has the opposite requirements. Members will want to experiment, have programmable interfaces into the network, run bleeding edge software, and interestingly, members seem to actually want to “break” the network, and we’re going to do our best to enable this type of collaborative research.”

Inducing problems/breaking the network seems like an odd concept, but Stankiewicz says this characteristic provides users the ability to experiment with creating faults in the network and subsequently, monitor how the network has changed. The fact that EdgeNet contains an experimental factor allows problems to be induced where certain outcomes could be determined.

“Breaking the network will allow members using the system in this manner to maybe reboot a switch or reboot a device, or intentionally break or move a cable,” Stankiewicz said.

EdgeNet Looks to the Future

The comprehensive scope of EdgeNet product solutions places an emphasis on NJEdge’s full service approach to meeting members’ needs. EdgeNet solutions encompass the following:

  • Internet
  • Internet2
  • Peering
  • Transport
  • WAN
  • LAN
  • DDoS Mitigation Support Service
  • DNS
  • LISP

The next generation network architecture envisions a fully meshed network where automatic re-routing of member traffic around any and all carrier network and hardware outages is deployed.

Stankiewicz works closely with Internet2 and uses their structure as an example of a platform for collaborative research, impacting decision-making in regard to NJEdge’s network. Internet2 and its community have helped Jim understand the importance of community engagement within the membership.

“We look to Internet2 as an example of how we can better meet our members’ needs,” he said. “There is tremendous value in collaborating with our Internet2 community members because the needs of our members are similar, regardless of where they are. Their challenges and priorities are what I use to drive my decision-making.”

These efforts compel New Jersey stakeholders to continue to invest in the NJEdge network. The possibilities continue to blossom as the EdgeNet optical footprint increases, offering the NJEdge membership more ways to reduce connectivity costs and scale bandwidth in an on-demand fashion.

EdgeNet is currently looking at models that create a broad impact. For instance, when NJEdge’s fiber footprint is built into member sites, this connection allows member sites to become a hub for neighboring members to directly connect to the network at a fraction of the cost.

Another issue Stankiewicz and his team take very seriously is the security of the network. They often go above and beyond to ensure the membership is protected whenever they connect to the global Internet.

“The security measures we implement and maintain depend on the coordinated actions of many others in our ecosystem of providers,” Stankiewicz said.

EdgeNet also uses numerous tools to understand how its members utilize the network. In one instance, a solution is identified where EdgeNet directly connects to content providers such as Google, Amazon, and Netflix – three of the content providers most used by NJEdge’s membership.

“We are greatly able to improve our members’ access to their most-used providers and reduce our connectivity costs,” he said.

Because of the time spent understanding members’ current and future needs, NJEdge boosts a high percentage of up time and high availability. Ensuring this level of functionality means considerable time and preparation is spent scheduling network maintenance with all of the campus networks. Stankiewicz also devotes time collaborating with industry partners, peers, and the Internet2 community.

“This comprehensive approach ensures that I have the broadest perspective so I can best support our members’ needs,” he said.

In addition to working closely with organizations such as Internet2, Stankiewicz also took time to expand his knowledge by attending the National Research Platform Annual Meeting in August at Montana State University in Bozeman, MT. He appreciated the ability to listen and learn from other research networks around the country that are also evolving.

“Since we’re evolving in the research area, the meeting opened our eyes to new ways of thinking about how to build networks and infrastructure to support the researchers,” he said.

Considerable time is spent on design, especially before any final decisions are made. Rigorous testing has always been mandatory, whether the system undergoes a complete design or the introduction of a single feature. EdgeNet strives to be purpose built.

“We want members to know we take their expectations of our network very seriously.” Stankiewicz said. “Members are looking for stability and reliability. We have built our design and operation model around their expectations.”

The financial pressures are always at the forefront, which is why NJEdge always looks to improve service and product offerings, including the abilities for streaming, telemetry, automation, and orchestration, to optimally leverage their assets.

“The ideal outcome from these technologies would be to lower our member costs and offer more and better services without large investments,” Stankiewicz said.

Most importantly, Stankiewicz says the focus on people is what draws members to EdgeNet.

“There’s the people aspect – something we offer beyond the technology,” he said. “Our membership continues to be asked to do more with less and that dynamic is something I try to be very sensitive to. I take every opportunity to provide consultative advice or share what I’ve learned with our community. There are a number of activities that members don’t necessarily perform every day that we do, and I use those periods as an opportunity to go above and beyond to help build a deeper relationship.”

These opportunities with the members help Stankiewicz make decisions that better the EdgeNet network. He also believes the research undertaken is going to be one of the bigger growth drivers within the community, but will require improved engagement with the research and education community.

“I think the key to success, for moving forward, is to be prepared to change. As we continue to invest in building a platform for collaborative research and education, trust, identity and security will continue to be the top problems and priorities,” Stankiewicz said.

EdgeNet is looking for opportunities to improve operational efficiency and effectiveness and, as such, NJEdge is looking for new participants, especially in the K-12 community, municipal government, health communities, or other federal communities, such as public safety.

“The challenge is that the problem has to be solved by multiple parties, not just by one individual, like myself. I’m optimistic about emerging technologies, such as 5G and other protocols that are under development,” he said. “We will keep our eyes on the new entrants, as we’re well aware that the complexity is rising, while member institution budgets are not.”

In all of these ways, Stankiewicz helps EdgeNet increase its digital footprint in New Jersey and surrounding area, whether by improving and increasing technology needs and features, or by working with the membership to know what areas need changed. He is giving these footprints around the state a strong voice.