When the COVID-19 pandemic prompted a rapid move to online instruction, research and administration, OARnet realized that many colleges and universities would need technology upgrades to meet the demand. The Ohio Department of Higher Education (ODHE) awarded more than $10 million in Ohio Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) funds to OARnet to increase broadband capacity to 41 institutions.
Between 2020 and 2022, OARnet, working with private sector partners, upgraded last mile connections to these colleges and universities from 1 Gigabits per second (Gbps) or less bandwidth to 10 Gbps to accommodate current and future needs of the virtual academic environment. Many institutions also received upgraded firewalls and new vulnerability scanning and penetration testing services to bolster their campus cybersecurity.
In addition, ODHE Chancellor Randy Gardner worked with OARnet to create a program that doubled the internet bandwidth at 76 institutions at no additional cost.
OARnet relied on public-private partnerships with last mile providers such as AT&T, Spectrum, Horizon, Crown Castle, Everstream, Buckeye Telesys and CNI (COMNET) and others to realize this major upgrade.
Not only did the GEER project address immediate pandemic-related needs, but it established the technology infrastructure critical for maintaining and growing the new hybrid academic environment.
“This increase in capacity will allow our higher education institutions to remain competitive in instruction, research, grant applications and workforce development,” said Pankaj Shah, executive director of OARnet. “The GEER program has aided the transition to a cloud environment to support advanced learning management systems, innovative educational program delivery, new industry partnerships, large interdisciplinary research projects and economic development initiatives.”
The GEER program’s technology initiatives have had positive, far-ranging impacts.
“These initiatives have provided us with enhanced security visibility within our environments, more capacity for our multisite learner focused initiatives, compliance with modern standards and cyber insurance requirements, and room to expand our digital presence with updated technology services,” said Allen Hudson, chief information/technology officer for the University of Rio Grande and Rio Grande Community College.
The boost in bandwidth offered Lourdes University several benefits, said Michael McCormick, chief information officer.
“Before our bandwidth and firewall upgrades, we were restricted to hosting key systems on-site, such as our file servers, ERP and data warehouse,” McCormick said. “By leveraging the GEER grant to expand our bandwidth and supporting infrastructure, we were able to migrate these critical resources to the cloud, increasing availability and scalability for our students, faculty and staff. Ultimately, this supports our university’s initiatives to enhance the quality of teaching and learning through the effective use of technology resources.”
Ginger Breon, chief technology officer at The Ohio State University, also emphasized the value of the GEER program.
“OARnet is central to the needs of colleges and universities in Ohio, irrespective of the size of their student population or whether they are public or private,” Breon said. “Through OARnet’s efforts during the pandemic, Ohio State was able to double our bandwidth while keeping our expenses constant. This helped us focus on various other IT-related, unexpected spending during the pandemic. OARnet is one of the most critical elements of our technology ecosystem.”
Since 1987, OARnet has delivered technology-based solutions that reduce costs, increase productivity and improve customer service. As a division of the Ohio Department of Higher Education's(link sends e-mail) Ohio Technology Consortium(link sends e-mail) (OH-TECH), OARnet serves Ohio's education, health care, public broadcasting and government communities. Other members of the consortium include the Ohio Supercomputer Center(link sends e-mail) (OSC) and the Ohio Library and Information Network(link sends e-mail) (OhioLINK).