A new, high-speed gateway connection in Atlanta has doubled the data-carrying capacity for Virginia Tech and other universities across the commonwealth, providing faster, more reliable access to Internet2, the nation’s largest and fastest coast-to-coast research and education network.

The new gateway was secured by the Mid-Atlantic Research Infrastructure Alliance Inc. (MARIA), a nonprofit consortium of Virginia institutions that facilitates access to shared network and cyberinfrastructure resources to serve the commonwealth and the mid-Atlantic region.  

In addition to Virginia Tech, MARIA members include William & Mary, George Mason University, James Madison University, Old Dominion University, the University of Virginia, and Virginia Commonwealth University. Virginia Tech operates MARIA’s facilities on behalf of its members and partners. 

The new Atlanta gateway complements and provides backup for MARIA’s existing gateway in Ashburn, Virginia. Both connect at a speed of 100 gigabits per second, or 100G. “The addition of a second 100G gateway is a real milestone for MARIA, as it puts participating Virginia universities, including Virginia Tech, among the best-connected institutions globally,” noted Jeff Crowder, executive director of strategic initiatives for the Division of Information Technology at Virginia Tech and managing director for MARIA. 

“Having two gateways not only greatly expands the capacity to send and receive large amounts of data very quickly, but also improves the reliability of access, ensuring fast, uninterrupted connectivity even if one gateway experiences a temporary disruption,” said Crowder.  

The gateways are housed in similar facilities – the Mid-Atlantic Research and Education Exchanges (MREXs) in Ashburn and Atlanta. MARIA operates both in partnership with the Mid-Atlantic Broadband Communities Corporation. The Ashburn and Atlanta locations offer important benefits to MARIA’s member institutions. Both metro areas are also home to data centers for prominent cloud providers such as Amazon Web Services, Microsoft, Google, and many others. This proximity means that members can connect to these services, as well as Internet2, through the MREX with virtually unlimited capacity and minimal lag time in sending and receiving data.  

Crowder likens the improvements made possible by the new gateway to installing a wide new water main direct from the pumping station to replace one or more smaller-gauge supply lines. “When data has to travel a longer distance over a lower-speed connection, it is like running water using a long, winding, and narrow pipe that branches off frequently — less data can flow through per second, it has a longer way to go, and any disruptions in the flow will slow things down even more.” 

With only a short distance to go from the MREX to Internet2 or other networks, and a much higher-capacity channel, Virginia Tech and other MARIA participants can pool their traffic over the gateway and connect directly to virtually all content, cloud, and commodity services, all while experiencing faster and more reliable connections.  

This translates to a competitive advantage for Virginia Tech researchers. “These gateways are critical to all computational research that requires access to national high performance computing resources or the movement of large data sets,” said Crowder. “Now, our researchers can demonstrate to sponsors that they have robust access to Internet2 and other key cloud services through a connection that provides the capacity and reliability they need for their work to succeed.”

MARIA’s investment in the new Atlanta gateway also reflects its commitment to developing the country’s advanced research and education cyberinfrastructure through collaboration. The MREX in Atlanta was developed in partnership with Georgia Tech’s Southern Crossroads (SoX) program, which serves the research and education community throughout the southeastern region of the United States. Like MARIA, SoX is part of a national community of regional research networks providing connectivity to the global research and education community. 

"Advanced cyberinfrastructure is critical to research at Virginia institutions,” said Rusty Waterfield, chief information officer at Old Dominion University and MARIA board member. “We can only develop this type of shared network service through the collaboration of our members.”

Scott Midkiff, vice president for information technology and chief information officer, expressed his appreciation for the partnership with SoX and Georgia Tech: “Virginia Tech has had a strong peer relationship with the team at SoX and Georgia Tech for over a decade. We look forward to continuing our work together, serving the cyberinfrastructure needs of the research and education community.”

While the debut of the new gateway is a milestone for MARIA today, its true value lies in the impact it will have in enabling ever-more complex research and innovation into the future.

For more information about MARIA, visit marialliance.net.

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