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 Experience Article in View From the Edge Magazine

Research and Education Networks, or R&E Networks, are the ultimate facilitators of innovation – offering an important avenue for connectivity, advocacy, outreach, and collaboration. Individually, each is unique to meet the needs of the local and statewide communities. Collectively, they are critical to advancing research and education from coast to coast. The voice of those networks for the past 20 years in the United States is The Quilt.

A Coalition is Born
“The earliest research and education networks date back to the 1960s,” shares Jen Leasure, President and CEO of The Quilt. “Later in the mid-1980s, a dozen networks were funded by the National Science Foundation. These networks served as the foundation of research and education networks as we know them today.” Beginning in 1998, several regional networks began meeting regularly to discuss the opportunities and challenges in statewide networking for research and education. This special interest group rapidly grew and in 2000, the coalition was formally established as The Quilt. As the various fabric patches of a quilt highlight different colors, patterns and textures, each research and education network reflects the diversity and unique qualities found in institutions across the country.

“Research and Education Networks are purpose built for the high-capacity and high performance needs of their member institutions. These networks provide ample network capacity that supports a range of network uses such as flash network traffic events that stem from data generated by large scientific instruments to the spikes in network traffic caused by online testing that occurs on specific testing dates during the school year for K-12 students,” explains Leasure. Research and Education Networks are not just about the high-capacity connections. These networks are also trusted conveners that foster a strong sense of community among their members, stakeholders, and industry partners. Further, these networks are directly governed by their users and the technical and operational support network members receive is exceptional; each connected institution can always count on speaking with a local expert who understands the specific needs of their organization.

Quilt Member Organizations
Quilt member organizations have their roots in higher education through their founding university partners. Since their inception, many of Quilt member organizations have broadened their focus to serve other publically-missioned institutions like K-12 schools, public libraries, non-profit healthcare, state and local governments, museums and other cultural centers, and tribal communities. “There are so many technology solutions in the marketplace today explains Leasure. Many of these institutions value the role of their regional network partners as a trusted technical experts to help them navigate the different solutions and identify those that are best suited to the unique needs of their institution. They play a very important role when it comes to making important and budget-conscious technology decisions.” The Quilt also leverages the collective purchasing power of its members and connecting institutions to enable the broader community to purchase technology solutions from vendors who recognize the value of partnering with The Quilt and appreciate the scale of institutions represented by the R&E Network community.

Quilt member organizations are dedicated to providing unparalleled levels of network performance, reliability, and security. Through lightning-fast, resilient, and secure networks, connecting institutions are connected to one another through their research and education network which enable innovation and inspire new opportunities. “The networks that are part of our Quilt community are built on high-capacity, high-performance, and secure connections,” shares Leasure. “These key features are not only essential for moving, storing, and analyzing scientific research data, but are the same features that are vital to applications for academic and cultural pursuits.”

Quilt Membership
“Per our mission, all members of The Quilt are non-profit, U.S.-based state and regional research and education networks,” explains Leasure. “Our members’ organizational structures are roughly equally split into three different categories: an IRS-recognized non-profit corporation, under the management of a U.S. university, or as a division of state government, such as the State Board of Regions or council on post-secondary education.”  The Quilt currently has 38 member organizations as well as 10 affiliates. Furthermore, The Quilt provides a national forum for leaders and staff of these networking organizations to collaborate to provide advanced network services and technical solutions to over 900 universities and thousands of other educational and community anchor institutions across the country.

The Quilt and Internet2
Ever since its inception, The Quilt has maintained a close, collaborative relationship with Internet2. Adds Leasure, “We are members of each other’s organizations; sharing a common goal of supporting our members’ missions and research and scholarship across the country.”


Research & Education Networks Nationwide




The Quilt’s Members Connect Higher Education Institutions


The Quilt’s Members Connect Community Anchor Institutions

Raising Visibility
The Quilt pays close attention to the legislative activities at both the state and federal level, including telecommunications policy. The coalition monitors all types of legislation that could potentially impact Quilt members or the community institutions each serve. “Our member networks are of critical importance to the institutions they support and connect,” says Leasure. “When you are that vital to the operations of any institution, monitoring the landscape for any shifts that could potentially impact network operations is crucial.” Similarly, The Quilt pays careful attention to opportunities at the national level to share its expertise with telecommunications policy-makers as well as seek out new grant opportunities. The Quilt has invested considerable time and resources into monitoring for new grant opportunities for its members and their member institutions.

For example, in 2009, The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) was signed into law with the intention of accelerating broadband deployment in unserved and underserved areas with a focus on broadband connectivity to community anchor institutions. The ARRA allocated money for broadband deployments to the USDA Rural Utility Services (RUS) to distribute in the form of loans and to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to distribute in the form of grants. “The opportunities for grants under the NTIA were a significant turning point in our national communities’ evolution,” says Leasure. “At that time, The Quilt brought information to our members about this grant opportunity and we hosted a forum for anyone in the research and education networking community who wished to gather information, share ideas, and learn how to apply. The Quilt took a lead role in advocating to federal policymakers on the importance of prioritizing connections to community anchor institutions as part of the second round of the Broadband Technology Opportunity Program, or BTOP, which is the program that was administered by NTIA.” Leasure says around 27 research and education networks, including Internet2, were either direct recipients, sub-recipients or key partners for these grants across the country.

Another example focuses on The Quilt’s partnership with the National Science Foundation (NSF) and supporting the NSFs Campus Cyberinfrastructure Program. Since 2012, the NSF has invested in campus and regional-level cyberinfrastructure for scientific discovery and education. “The Quilt shares information with our members about the campus cyberinfrastructure program and the different cycles of funding that are available. From these efforts, we’ve observed an increase in our member interest and participation in this national program,” explains Leasure.    

Organized for Action
The Quilt is a member-powered organization, which is small on staff, but large on member engagement, leadership, and volunteer support. “We couldn’t do what we do without our members,” says Leasure. “One of the benefits of being a smaller organization is we are able to move more nimbly and quickly to address opportunities and issues as they arise. Our members place a lot of trust in the work we do together. This foundation of trusted relationships positions us to take advantage of different opportunities as well as move quickly on various initiatives. Because of this collaboration, we can swiftly shift into action and keep pace with the changes in the world of technology.”

Through The Quilt, member organizations are able to tap into each other’s experience and access the expertise needed to operate a research and education network. “For every topic we encounter, there are member organizations that are ahead of the curve,” shares Leasure. “Perhaps there is someone on staff that is very knowledgeable in that area and through The Quilt’s collaborative nature, others can gather information quickly to help support their member needs.”

The Quilt also regularly facilitates working groups to allow members to share best practices, build capacity, and set up a brain trust across the national research and education networking community. For instance, a policy working group takes a deeper dive into the policy space and represents the research and education community to policymakers by raising flags and asking pertinent questions. A services working group exchanges ideas about product development and services and how these solutions can meet the community’s needs. The Quilt also hosts a CEO roundtable forum where executive leaders from member organizations meet regularly to share top-level strategies with one another and collectively guide the enterprise of research and education networking.

“Edge joined The Quilt in 2014 and since that time there has been tremendous growth in Edge membership, strategy, and their regional and national role. The success of other services in the Edge portfolio, such as EdgeCloud and EdgeMarket, has proven that Edge is a strategic and nimble partner to its member institutions and industry partners which puts Edge as a leader within our member community.”

Jen Leasure
President and CEO of The Quilt

The Quilt and Edge
“Edge is a remarkable organization,” says Leasure. “Edge joined The Quilt in 2014 and since that time there has been tremendous growth in Edge membership, strategy, and their regional and national role.”

Leasure says Edge’s service development strategy of responding to members’ needs is incredibly innovative. “The success of other services in the Edge portfolio, such as EdgeCloud and EdgeMarket, has proven that Edge is a strategic and nimble partner to its member institutions and industry partners which puts Edge as a leader within our member community.”

Edge staff members are active supporters and contributors to The Quilt community and frequently volunteer to lead Quilt initiatives and working groups. “Edge’s expertise and knowledge of best practices in a number of areas within research and education is recognized and sought after among our Quilt members,” adds Leasure.

At the regional level, Edge is involved in a strategic partnership called the Eastern Regional Network (ERN) with eight of The Quilt members in the northeast, along with numerous higher education institutions, research facilities, and Internet2 explains Leasure, “The ERN collaboration has created a platform which supports a diverse set of campus science drivers and educational opportunities. Participating institutions now have access to a broad range of multi-institutional resources that no single campus alone could have provided to researchers and faculty.”

Looking ahead, The Quilt’s initiatives will continue to reflect members’ priorities and create meaningful partnerships that empower adopters and influencers of new technology. As the name represents, The Quilt is a patchwork of networks across the U.S. with a collaborative mission of advancing research and scholarship. “All of our regional networks are the patches of The Quilt that must be seamlessly stitched together to serve a larger purpose and community,” says Leasure. “Our mission is to embody the idea that the whole cloth of The Quilt is greater than the sum of our parts. Together, we enable breakthrough innovations that power the greater good.”