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A Need for Speed: Upgrade connects Lehigh’s campuses with high capacity fiber

LTS campus fiber project

Whether they’re studying cyber security, marketing analytics, bioengineering or life sciences, students, faculty, and researchers increasingly need more robust, high capacity, and high speed networks to support the enormous amounts of data used in their coursework and advanced research.

To address this demand, Library and Technology Services (LTS) undertook a multi-phased, yearlong project to not only significantly boost network capacity but also create diverse fiber paths between Asa Packer and Mountaintop campuses, including one underground, to provide complete network redundancy and reliability.

Supported by $1 million in university funding, the project also includes plans to extend fiber optic cabling between Mountaintop and Goodman, connecting all three campuses with a secure high speed fiber optic network. These new Lehigh-owned facilities will provide nearly bandwidth-unlimited capacity fiber to support continued growth at the university.

Vice Provost for Library and Technology Services Bruce Taggart said the project is expected to give the university vastly increased data network capacity for academics and research. “It also provides additional redundant links to handle potential network outages.”

The tri-campus network expansion will also help support research activities of academic departments moving to Mountaintop campus, including Computer Science and Engineering, Art, Architecture, and Design, and the Office of Vice Provost for Creative Inquiry and Mountaintop Initiative, and connects all university buildings to the core network infrastructure.

Library and Technology Services contracted with wireless and fiber optics network firm, Celerity Integrated Services, Inc., to design, build, and manage the project. The locally-owned, Bucks County company specializes in building fiber optic infrastructure for fiber optic carriers, utility companies, educational, and governmental institutions.

James Monek, Director of Technology Infrastructure and Operations for LTS said that Celerity faced a short timeline and challenging terrain to Mountaintop campus. “They worked with Lehigh to ensure minimal impact to student life and academics by adjusting priorities and limiting portions of construction work to off hours and weekends,” he said.

Celerity Vice President Deron Leight said their primary goal was to build a robust and diverse network that allowed Lehigh to meet key objectives for its Data X and other initiatives. “While redundancy is a network characteristic that few fully appreciate or understand,” says Leight, “the completion of this project ensured that the invaluable data that traverses the university’s network will be protected from factors that are beyond the school’s control.”

Led by Jeff Deschler, LTS Sr. Network Engineer and Mountaintop Fiber Project Manager, the project broke ground in December, 2016. Deschler noted that while the university’s existing network fiber ran between both campuses, capacity was limited and the aerial path within and along the densely-wooded areas left the network prone to falling tree limbs.

“The topography between campuses is fairly treacherous, resulting in unknown risks and costs to the project,” he said. “Excavating through rocky terrain to install underground conduits created challenges to manage not only costs but project schedules.”

After late-winter ductwork was installed, over 20,000 feet of fiber was pulled over two diverse paths between Asa Packer campus and Mountaintop, completing the first phase of the project in late April.

Phase II to Goodman Campus is expected to be completed in October 2017.

For more information about the project, including a case study and additional photos, visit Celerity's website.