New network puts state’s 15 community colleges in internet fast lane

Published 11:01 am Saturday, November 14, 2020

Mississippi’s 15 community colleges are upgrading to a fiber-based broadband network that officials say will allow faster internet speeds and more collaboration with other institutions of higher learning and research in the state.

The Mississippi Optical Network (MissiON), run by C Spire, already serves the University of Mississippi, Mississippi State University, the Stennis Space Center and the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers’ Engineering Research and Development Center, as well as a number of other major institutions.

The network allows members to access speeds up to 100 Gigabits per second (Gbps) and share virtual resources, C Spire CEO Hu Meena said.

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“MissiON allows students, researchers and others from Jackson State to use the supercomputer at Mississippi State,” University of Southern Mississippi chief information officer David Sliman said during an online announcement Thursday. “Likewise, MissiON allows terabytes of oceanographic data generated by USM and Stennis Space Center to be accessed directly by individuals at Ole Miss as if the data resides on their own campus.”

Mississippi State’s supercomputer is among the fastest academic systems in the world. It can accomplish 5 quadrillion computations a second, according to the university’s website.

The MissiON network began serving Mississippi’s four research institutions and has expanded over the years. Adding community colleges will allow more than 200,000 students to access the network.
Andrea Mayfield, executive director of the Mississippi Community College Board, said the transition to the MissiON network will help with expanded distance learning needs during the coronavirus pandemic. She said MissiON is critical for online workforce development training. For example, the network can help community colleges use tools like augmented reality and virtual reality-based training for frontline healthcare workers, Mayfield said.

Jason Guntharp, Systems Engineer at Itawamba Community College said the school has already leveraged the new network to host a virtual job fair. Students were able to connect with employers — including those in other states — through video conferencing where they could tour the employers’ headquarters.

MissiON is one of about 45 regional research and education networks across the United States, Sliman said. Many regional networks include members such as museums, health care facilities, libraries, primary schools and secondary schools.