Private sonet ring links N.Y. Public Library

Feb. 1, 1998

Private sonet ring links N.Y. Public Library

By STEPHEN HARDY

The New York Public Library is a unique combination of research centers and circulating branch offices in Manhattan, the Bronx, and Staten Island. When it came time to upgrade the library system`s communications infrastructure, the organization`s requirements proved unique as well. To meet both its communications and financial needs, the library has chosen a private fiber-optic Synchronous Optical Network (sonet) ring topology to carry multimedia traffic among its research centers.

According to David Sturm, director of information and technology and chief information officer for the New York Public Library, the library`s frame relay network previously consisted of 56-kbit/sec lines connecting its 85 circulating branches and T1 and T3 links joining its six research centers. While boosting the 56-kbit/sec lines to T1 speeds was a straightforward upgrade handled easily by the local phone company, establishing the sonet network for the research centers proved more challenging. The constraints placed on the topology derived as much from the library`s private nonprofit status as from the technological hurdles of building a network in downtown Manhattan.

"As a nonprofit organization, operating funds are always dear to us, whereas capital funding is a little easier to come by," Sturm explains. "We were looking for a way to move more of our operating costs to capital, to make it predictable."

Compounding the problem was the unique nature of the research centers. The centers include the Donnell Library Center at 20 West 53rd Street; the Center for the Humanities at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street; the Mid-Manhattan Library at 455 Fifth Avenue; the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at 40 Lincoln Center Plaza; the Science, Industry, and Business Library at 188 Madison Avenue; and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture at 515 Malcolm X Boulevard. The centers dot the Manhattan map, from mid-town to Harlem--not an easy territory in which to rip up streets to lay cable. The multimedia transmissions likely to pass between the centers included potentially sensitive performance tapes that might best be kept off public communications networks, library staffers felt.

Sturm and his associates met these challenges by choosing a private network composed of dark fiber already available in all but one of the locations the library had to serve. Ownership of the network gives the library control of its communications destiny by allowing it to upgrade the capacity of the network whenever it wants. It also allows the library to avoid the legal issues that might arise from sending some of its material over the public network.

The dark-fiber topology also meets the library`s accounting goals. "That`s why dark fiber is particularly appealing to us," says Sturm. "To have a fixed price for the connections between our major facilities and the ability to upgrade the speed over that as the need arises using capital funds was very attractive."

The library chose Metromedia Fiber Network Inc. (mfn), New York City, to provide most of the network infrastructure, and will pay the company approximately $2 million over the next 10 years. mfn is one of six franchisees granted access to New York City`s existing conduit system for the purpose of laying fiber-optic cabling. The company had fiber available everywhere except in the area of the Schomburg Center, but agreed to lay the necessary cable to bring that location into the network as part of the package. mfn was the only company that met both the private network and existing fiber requirements, says Sturm.

According to Howard Finkelstein, president of mfn, the library will receive four strands of dark fiber for the sonet ring joining the six centers. The company generally uses singlemode fiber, although it has used Lucent`s TrueWave fiber to branch into longer-haul applications. For example, the company has expanded into the metropolitan New York-New Jersey area and plans to construct a fiber corridor to join its downtown New York networks with similar infrastructure in Philadelphia, PA, and Washington, DC.

The library scenario is similar to other private networks mfn has provided to corporate users, according to Finkelstein. mfn will lay feeder cable to link the library centers to the existing mfn infrastructure, as well as perform some in-building wiring. Most organizations purchase more fiber than will be necessary to meet their short-term requirements, he says. This eliminates the need to invest in wavelength-division multiplexing equipment as a hedge against future expansion.

However, the library will have to invest in switching and termination equipment. Sturm says he will rely principally on Cisco Systems Inc., San Jose, CA, to provide this hardware. The new network will contain the company`s LightStream workgroup/campus switch, Catalyst local area network switch, and 7500 Series multiprotocol router. Sturm says this equipment will push the network initially to a top speed of OC-12 (622 Mbits/sec).

The network should begin operation next month, with five of the six centers online. Because adding the Schomburg Center requires laying additional dark fiber in mfn`s network, this final piece of the New York Public Library`s sonet puzzle will not be in place until the end of June, according to Finkelstein. q

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