By Andrea Pyka

UC Santa Cruz has paved the way for “Fiber to the Future,” a project to install a new high-performance fiber-optic Internet connection that will provide UCSC students and faculty access to a statewide research and education network.

UCSC and Corporation for Education Network Initiatives in California (CENIC) recently announced their plan to install California Research and Education Network (CalREN), which will directly connect the UCSC campus to the Silicon Valley Extension Center at NASA’s Ames Research Center.

Janis Cortese, manager for publicity and communication for CENIC, said that the new connection would allow UCSC researchers and educators to share vast amounts of data.

Cortese attributed the success of worldwide data sharing to the fact that the new dark fiber-optic cable has a higher bandwidth than the current connection.

“[The fiber-optic cable] is a 10-gigabit connection,” Cortese said. “[That is equivalent] to downloading 10 full-length movies in one second.”

In comparison, the current connection allows the transmission of 1 gigabit per second, which is like downloading one digitized Hollywood movie, Cortese added.

CENIC is a non-profit corporation that was originally created 10 years ago by California’s research and education community and is dedicated to meeting the research and education needs of the state’s education institutions from kindergarten through college.

According to Cortese, CENIC designs, owns and deploys CalREN, the network to which all K-20 public as well as some private research and education institutions are connected via the CENIC-managed dark fiber cable.

“With a fiber-optic backbone like CalREN, and with UCSC’s new fiber-optic connection to that backbone, UCSC can collaborate on really cutting-edge science with researchers anywhere else on the planet, as long as there is a fiber path between them,” Cortese said.

Doug Hartline, director of Core Technologies at UCSC, said that the new fiber-optic connection allows researchers the flexibility to share vast amounts of data over the cable, something that is otherwise limited by other Internet providers. Core Technologies manages all consolidated IT systems resources and provides a secure and stable computing environment for the campus.

Hartline explained that the fiber-optic Internet transmits data by sending light through each end of the fiber cable. He initially collaborated on the fiber-optic cable when he was working at UC Davis, and decided to continue to work on the connection at UCSC.

Hartline said that the new fiber-optic connection would bring new computing capabilities to the UCSC campus.

“In today’s world, the network is the computer,” Hartline said. “High-performance computing is becoming the laboratory of the future.”

Larry Merkley, vice provost for information technology at UCSC, said that the fiber-optic connection would help bring research, knowledge and experience into classrooms.

“A lot of people are excited that [the new Internet] is going to happen now,” Merkley said. “It is the result of a lot of people and organizations’ investment in making [this] a priority.”

According to Merkley, UCSC is the last of the UCs to connect to the new fiber-optic high-performance Internet. Some of the logistics included the cost of installation and sensitive terrain that prevented UCSC from installing the new high-performance Internet until now.

The new fiber-optic connection is scheduled to be in use at the end of the year, and will be partly underground and partly strung across PG&E power lines along Highway 17.

Merkley said that bringing research services provided by the fiber-optic Internet to Santa Cruz would also benefit other educational institutions in the Santa Cruz County, such as Cabrillo College.

This is a big step for UCSC to align with other campuses and universities across the nation, Merkley said.