Completion of member institution last mile connectivity to the Edge network backbone through a statewide dark fiber initiative.

In 2001 a vision was created and funded by the New Jersey Presidents Council of Higher Education that established a high-performance network to support statewide research, education, and economic development. Today, that vision has resulted in a national model of excellence for research and education networking and computing. As the need for affordable access to research and education networks continues, network connectivity and capacity remains the crucial element in multiple technologies, such as cloud-scale computing, forming the connective tissue among users, technology stacks, applications, and data. More than ever before in today’s cloud-based computing architecture, the need for secure, high-bandwidth computing experiences permeates the education and government landscape. At the same time, the cost of connecting to the Edge backbone (i.e., the “last mile” connection) currently is determined by a constantly changing amalgamation of providers and represents the single largest variable in the overall cost of providing scalable, secure, high-performance bandwidth to New Jersey institutions of higher education and other stakeholders who rely on the Edge network.

As a result, institutions and organizations struggle to control the cost of infrastructure as the need for increased bandwidth and network services continues. This prospectus outlines a strategy for investment in our digital future that eliminates the vagaries and uncertainties of the chaotic marketplace for bandwidth as we chart our path forward. The solution involves installation of “dark fiber” to each institutional location that is owned and managed as a part of the Edge network, thus minimizing the variable costs associated with leasing fiber optic pathways to connect to the Edge network backbone. Installing dark fiber connections to each anchor institution would change the economic drivers from a variable costs to a fixed cost, and thus allow for a controllable, budget-friendly network service for decades to come.

Edge (NJEdge.Net, Inc.) is incorporated in the State of New Jersey as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and has been in operation since 2001. The core commodity wide-area network services provided by Edge to its consumers in higher education, healthcare, and government include bandwidth, Internet and Internet2 access, other technology solutions, and managed services. From its early inception at the turn of the century, NJEdge has continually served its members through an evolving mission to provide essential broadband network services and opportunities to leverage economies of scale to the Higher Education Institutions of New Jersey.

From the outset, the undertaking was predicated on the assumption that broadband connectivity is a utility that is critical to carry out the core missions of the higher education community in New Jersey. Working with strategic partners in 2003, Edge established a state-of-the-art network through a partnership with Verizon. Today, Edge provides statewide and regional connectivity through our high-performance optical network, offers “above net” products and services, and serves as an authorized state purchasing agent for consortium buying and distribution. As a result, Edge is well positioned to complete the original vision by accommodating the needs of higher education institutions and other technology dependent stakeholders with permanent, affordable last mile connections to the Edge optical fiber network backbone.

Edge serves and enables its education, research, healthcare, public and non-profit service members, collaborating partners, and subscribing patrons by providing statewide advanced networking, access to technology solutions and services, and expertise in information technology. Leveraging its high-performance optical network, Edge connects members, establishes standards for interoperability, fosters innovative solutions and the use of new and emerging technologies, and builds and supports a thriving community. Membership value is achieved through economies of scale, support for teaching, learning and research, convening communities of interest, collaborative events, and member success through learning and professional advancement.

Edge is committed to remain a national model of excellence in research and education networking, and continually advancing the technology agenda in New Jersey and beyond by creating and sustaining a healthy, vibrant, and thriving technology ecosystem and community. With a focus on membership advantage through collective impact and common good, Edge provides technology thought-leadership, infrastructure, and opportunities for professional collaboration and growth. As a premiere research and education network, Edge continually strives to enhance economic development in the state through growth and expansion of a resilient high-performance network, technology products, and professional services that best meet the current and future needs of its members, collaborating partners, and subscribing patrons.

Today we live in a connected world where digital content is globally networked to inform, educate, and research. The Edge network has continued to evolve since its inception in 2000 and today boasts one of the most advanced and secure optical fiber network designs available. Edge’s first generation network began design and construction in early 2000, provisioned using a Verizon MPLS configuration. With initial external Internet connectivity of 500Mb, our nascent network served the early needs of our membership and laid a foundation from which to build a more advanced optical fiber network. The second generation of the Edge network was designed and constructed, and moved the network into managed optical fiber network status. The third generation of the Edge network, our first purpose-built network, was the result of enhancements from our second-generation optical fiber network, coupled with the long-term leases of dark fiber acquired through the Internet2 organization. Our third generation network design formed the foundation for the Edge optical fiber network as it exists today. New network features, such as path diversity, disaster avoidance, and capacity on-demand were available to our members for the first time.

The fourth generation of the Edge network employs new technologies to the advantage of our members and further enhances core capabilities of our network by adding private peering fabric – essentially moving our connected members much closer to today’s cloud resources and mitigating risk with built-in DDoS services. During fiscal 2017, we again advanced our network design to a fifth generation of evolution, working in concert with a new emerging Tier-3 colocation provider in south New Jersey. This major leap forward provided Edge with the opportunity to further enhance network quality and resiliency through advanced design and configurations for connectivity and services infrastructure. In support of the future of scientific research and big data, Edge’s

fifth generation network design meets member demand for highly available, survivable optical transport and accommodates the provisioning of software defined networking (SDN) techniques. Creation of on-demand science demilitarized zones (DMZs) that span the state and the region and other science and research configurations represent examples of planned future capabilities for the NJEdge network. The current evolution of the fifth generation NJEdge optical fiber network employs a full ring network topology and represents the next incremental step toward delivering a fully meshed network. Features introduced in this design, currently in construction, include redundant routing devices at each of the three optical nodes. As a result, the network will be further hardened and protected against unplanned outages due to single equipment failure. An optical ring fiber network topology with full path and node redundancy and offering 100GB backbone connection speeds is now in view on the New Jersey horizon.

Cost modeling for a state-wide dark fiber build involves calculations of number of miles of fiber optic cabling required to connect each Edge member to the Edge optical fiber backbone. Based on the current map of NJEdge last mile service provider connections, line-of-sight mileage was estimated for a connection from each institution to the closest Edge point-of-presence (POP). Employing a network design that takes advantage of the close proximity of many institutions, the dark fiber cost model optimizes through leveraging a serial configuration that creates transit nodes, as opposed to a more costly approach of home-run connections directly to the Edge backbone POPs. A statewide pathway, optimal in design, shows the need for 46 nodes across the state. As a result, the number of fiber miles and the associated hardware required to light the fiber pathways and provision connectivity is significantly reduced.

With a complete set of line-of-site-based mileage estimates, the cost model employed data regarding actual mileage and line-of-sight mileage to calculate more precisely the actual number of fiber miles required. Based on an average cost per mile for provisioning dark fiber optical cable, estimates were rounded up 20% for a margin of error, a general rounding principle used in optical fiber construction. The cost model includes engineering, materials, and construction costs and when applied to the total mileage estimates of 586 miles, produces total fiber in-the-ground cost of $64.8M. Additional hardware costs for 46 connection nodes is estimated at $11.5M, for a total initial cost estimate of $76.3M.

Return-on-investment calculation involves the current cost of statewide last mile connectivity using commercial leased lines projected over the next 25 years (an average service life for optical fiber) with an annual cost escalation of 2.5 percent. Based on current annual cost of statewide last mile connectivity for member institutions of $2.7M, plus annual backbone circuit costs of $454K, with annual commercial cost escalation over a 25-year period, projected cost to maintain the current environment for this period is $108M. By comparison to the projected cost for a dark fiber infrastructure project of $76.3M, the return-on-investment over a 25-year period is significant. With the additional benefits of potential expansion of service to K12, business incubation, and other statewide economic development initiatives, the return-on-investment could be even higher. Certain opportunity for cost mitigation could occur through the use of existing state-owned dark fiber infrastructure. Utilization of some existing, unused infrastructure could dramatically impact the overall cost of this initiative in a positive manner.

An ancillary benefit to be realized with a project of this scale and scope is the opportunity to engage the State’s skilled trades workforce in an initiative that will advance New Jersey’s technology capacity and innovation capability.

The proposed timeline for a statewide dark fiber initiative involves two years of planning, design, and funding (2019-2021), followed by a four year project construction plan (2021-2025). With a governance structure composed of stakeholders in higher education, K12, NJ Office of Economic Development, NJOIT, and the NJ Secretary of Higher Education, opportunities to leverage this infrastructure for new benefit to science, innovation, business incubation, and business development will exist. This initiative brings statewide value through advancement of technology infrastructure in such a manner that purpose-built networking can support collaborative work among NJ government, education, and business.

EdgeConnectNJ is featured in the Spring/Summer 2020 edition of View From the Edge.