Intercampus network expands research opportunities

By Eric Heisig

All three University of Illinois campuses now have the ability to collaborate on the same study even though the largest distance between the locations is more than 200 miles, partially thanks to the growth of the Intercampus Communications Network – sometimes referred to as the ICCN.

“There can be collaboration that could take place from having the connection,” said Ahmed Kassem, director of the Academic Computing and Communications Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “There could be patients at one end and researchers on another end working with each other.”

The computer connections between the Urbana-Champaign, Chicago and Springfield campuses are growing along with the speed of communication.

The intercampus network is a CITES initiative made up of fiber optic cables connecting all three University campuses, meaning a faster connection for students, professors or anyone conducting research, said Tracy Smith, operations manager for the network.

“The reason that drove the decision to build the ICCN was that the previous connection wasn’t very reliable,” Smith said.

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    Charley Kline, a member of the engineering team working on the network and a programmer at CITES, said the project has been in the works since 2003 when the University acquired the dark fiber necessary to connect all of the campuses. There is a cable made from the specific material running from Champaign-Urbana to Springfield, one from Champaign-Urbana to Chicago and one from Chicago to Champaign-Urbana.

    “It is like a big ring,” Kline said. “We did it that way so we would always have a path even if a fiber (cable) was damaged.”

    Smith added that the new system will also be a tremendous help for faculty research being done at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications on the Urbana-Champaign campus.

    Kassem said the network will help all three campuses to better connect with administrative offices, mainly located on the Urbana-Champaign campus.

    The new connections will also benefit any department that wants to do corresponding research with another campus.

    They will also help when the University conducts research with other institutions in the country, Smith said.

    “There is the nationwide research network,” Smith said. “While we had connections to those research networks before, we weren’t able to buy a big enough connection from our provider to participate in what was going on.”

    The new network should also open up research opportunities for students, she said.

    “What we would like to see is more research opportunities and federally funded grants brought here to campus,” Smith said. “In that way, it will impact students.”