Harford Metropolitan Area Network Nearly Complete
Most people don’t think twice about hopping on the Internet at home for online banking, “Googling” research for work or accessing a web app from a mobile phone. But, if you were suddenly unable to perform any of those tasks, you would reveal your dependence on available and reliable Internet access.
After the 9/11 attacks and Hurricane Katrina, the vulnerability of core systems in business and government became glaringly visible. Inaccessibility, lack of redundancy, remote backups, increased traffic and use, and non-existent priority settings made response and recovery slow and inadequate. Companies and government entities set out to find or create alternative systems and solutions that would enhance projected use of the new technologies as well as being dependable and cost-effective on the heels of a disruptive or catastrophic event.
The Harford Metropolitan Area Network (HMAN) project is the result of recognizing those deficiencies. “In the wake of 9/11, there was a lot of discussion within the county government and public service segments on how we could link all these things together to create a backbone that we could all rely on in an emergency and ensure that we have connectivity,” explains Glenn Gillis, vice president of strategic development and corporate relations for SURVICE Engineering Company and Economic Development Advisory Board liaison for the HMAN project.
“Before, everyone was doing their own thing,” Gillis continues. “The library had separate contracts for phone and Internet. The board of education had theirs. The sheriff, Harford Community College … Everybody was doing their best with what was available and making their own arrangements, negotiating their own contracts for services. Once the conversations started, it became clear that by pooling their resources toward a common goal, they could save money and ensure sustainable compatibility going forward.”
The original plan was focused on creating a countywide fiber optic network to link all the county agencies including government, schools and libraries, emergency systems, and police. The design consisted of geographic rings starting with Bel Air as the county seat, and then reaching into northern Harford County.
“County executive David Craig, along with the county council, recognized the need to make Harford County one of the most connected counties in the United States. This effort was to connect public agencies as well as provide services to areas that were underserved by commercial applications. The office of economic development also heard from the tech industry that broadband connections were costly and not at a level of service that met their needs. Connectivity was a real factor for many of the businesses relocating to Harford County. The economic development advisory board was asked to look at the program and provide information and opinions with regard to economic development. By doing that, and with the addition of Ted Pibil [acting Chief Information Officer, Harford County] to the table, we were able to recast and refocus the HMAN project to include the private sector.
“There’s a cost in maintaining, sustaining and upgrading a project of this kind. By adding the private sector, it will be more economically viable in the long run. This kind of network will be an incentive to a new or existing company and they will pay for access. It made clear, economic sense to include business in the plan,” Gillis emphasizes.
To the layperson, the HMAN project will be the equivalent of the electrical system in your home. All the lines are run throughout the house with multiple outlets available to access when necessary. You pay for service when you request connection, and you pay for your usage when you plug something in.
HMAN will lay over 100 miles of fiber optic cable throughout the county. Fiber optic cable is the most advanced technology providing high bandwidth connectivity to the Internet and other networks. It enables heavy traffic usage of network services, fast access to the Cloud, and shared space with diverse and disparate data like telephone, video and streaming video in real time. According to Pibil, the broadband fiber optic network can improve emergency preparedness and response with speeds up to 100 times that of current cable networks.
HMAN is part of a larger effort to bring broadband Internet access to all citizens across the state.
Harford Metropolitan Area Network (HMAN)
One Maryland Broadband Network (OMBN)
The Inter-County Broadband Network (ICBN)
According to the One Maryland Broadband website, doit.maryland.gov, Maryland was granted $115 million under the Recovery Act’s Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) to build a high-speed fiber optic network to directly connect 1,006 community institutions across 4,200 square miles. A consortium of six Maryland counties plus Annapolis and Baltimore City called the Inter-County Broadband Network (ICBN) is responsible for managing $72 million of that grant.
In a recent press release, Pibil states, “The Harford Metropolitan Area Network will catapult the county into the technology center to which it has aspired.”
The first stage of the network referred to as Ring 1 will go live – or light up – this summer, encompassing the area in and around Bel Air, the county seat. By fall, an area dubbed the “core” will be ready, bringing Harford Community College and the regions of Route 22, Forest Hill and Hickory online. The last phase, Ring 2, will connect the core to the southern parts of the county including the municipalities of Havre de Grace and Aberdeen and down to Joppa along Route 40. That phase should be ready in the spring of 2013. For a map of the rings and facilities, read the online version of this article at i95business.com.
“When we moved to Waters Edge, we didn’t have a private sector option for connectivity. SURVICE spent a considerable amount of money linking to the national system, a main trunk running up and down I-95, and buying access and switching,” Gillis says. “This new network will make it easier and more affordable for businesses to be up and running quickly.”
After the network construction is complete, businesses will have the opportunity to request access. “One of the next steps for the HMAN committee is developing the business plans that we can lay out to the private sector to pay the bill to sustain this new infrastructure,” explains Gillis. “Businesses need the access to run their own operations as well as attract and retain talented employees. They want to be able to offer telecommuting options and entice new staff with the promise of advanced technologies for work and for home.
“There’s been a lot of collaboration on this project,” admits Gillis. “At the high level, leadership is trying to support economic issues and topics while maintaining quality of life initiatives. EDAB and HMAN are working hard looking across all the different parts of this to make sure everything is coordinated. However, there’s also been great collaboration at the geek level to make sure the proper protocols are assigned, compatibility is addressed, and control is distributed. The conversations that are taking place revolve around bits and bytes but also priority setting with assigned tiers for appropriate emergency response.”
This collaborative effort will provide for savings in both the public agencies, benefitting the taxpayer and in the private sector, benefitting the customer. Gillis imparts, “The HMAN project is a great example of citizenry and private/public partnerships. There are an awful lot of good people that truly are trying to do the right things for the right reasons. Both inside government and outside private companies, there are people who are dedicating their time personally and professionally to making things better in the county.” I95