At NJ Edge, Network Expansion and Growth Translates into Economic Development, Conn Says.

At EdgeCon, the annual conference of NJ Edge (Newark), a nonprofit organization that addresses the networking needs of universities, K-12 districts, hospitals and others in the state and regionally, interviewed Samuel Conn, president and CEO.

Conn took us through both the accomplishments of Edge during the past year and what’s coming up for the organization in 2020. These are exciting times for Edge, as the importance of the network for underpinning everything from high-level scientific research to eSports competitions continues to grow. The network is expanding, both within New Jersey and among its regional partners, with a new node opened in Manhattan last year.

All of this activity is meant to bring more dollars into the state, as regional resources use more New Jersey-based infrastructure, and more grant dollars come in to take advantage of the optical network.

As Conn said, “We are working hard to position the state of New Jersey to be that innovation hub that at one point in time it was, and needs to be again. I think we are well on our way. We have tremendous leaders and thought leaders in New Jersey, and we are all working in the same direction these days.”

Q: How has the NJ Edge network changed over the last year?

C: We continue to expand our network. Our optical network is our core asset and we have a new node that we’ve opened in Manhattan. Now we have four major nodes that are in service from Philadelphia all the way up to New York City.

And then we have some other nodes that are on college campuses. The most notable of these is at Princeton University. We have a partnership with them, and they are joining the network. We are thrilled to have them with us.

The increased reach of the network does good things for the economy of New Jersey. It starts to get a flow of dollars back into New Jersey, instead of out of New Jersey. Part of our mission is to support economic development in the state. We have good things here and we want to share them with the region, and let everyone participate. Hopefully, we can make the economy better here, as well.

We are working hard to position the state of New Jersey to be that innovation hub that at one point in time it was, and needs to be again. I think we are well on our way. Samuel Conn, NJ Edge

Q: Last year we talked about creating a network that could better serve the university research community. What’s happening now?

C: We’ve altered the architecture of the network so that we have in place two sides, if you want to think about it that way. One side supports all the production needs of an institution, their registration systems, student information systems, enterprise resource planning systems, their digital marketing needs and more.  It connects institutions to the cloud, so that all the cloud solutions are available directly over our network. It must always be operational, have high up time and great security.

On the other side, we are supporting research computing, which has different objectives. It is more like a test bed. It has to be strong, so if they want to kick it, break it, they can. There are six institutions that are research institutions, and we are seeing research proliferate down to the undergraduate level now. For example, TCNJ [The College of New Jersey] has a very strong program in undergraduate research.  We are optimistic that this will help support more investment dollars and technology-transfer programs, and bring in more grant funding at the federal level for cyber infrastructure and things like that.

Q: I noticed that Edge has an emphasis on eSports.

C: We are leveraging the network in new and different ways. We are right at the forefront of eSports, and we have positioned ourselves with all of the content providers and gaming providers. You see institutions like Stockton University that has just built out an arena for eSports. More and more institutions are looking at this and saying they need to be doing it. We have the infrastructure and intend to lead the way in facilitating in New Jersey and the region the introduction of college eSports. We have a high-capacity network, a 400-gig network that is commercial grade and commercial class. It is purpose-built for things like this.

“We have tremendous leaders and thought leaders in New Jersey, and we are all working in the same direction these days.” Samuel Conn, NJ Edge

Q: I saw you have a new cybersecurity alliance. Can you tell us about it?

C: We’ve partnered with Mission Critical Institute for Cybersecurity, of Washington, D.C. They are a cybersecurity bootcamp, if you will, that is trying to fulfill, from a supply chain management position, the needs that the federal government and state governments have with open positions in cybersecurity. There are more than 3 million open positions in cybersecurity. Mission Critical has a curriculum with micro credentials. We will be using their Cyber Range platform to model a cybersecurity war game. The competition involves black-hat and white-hat players, where one group attacks and another defends. We are talking about a statewide competition to allow students to compete across the state and eventually the region and become cybersecurity champions. Then, they can get scholarships into two and four-year institutions that offer cybersecurity programs.

Q: Is Edge hiring?

C: We’ve grown, and we are very careful as we scale up. We are a group of highly talented folks who work together to bring highly tailored solutions to our institutions. However, I’m wanting to engage with the next generation of technology workers. We are developing an internship program. Our first intern, from NJIT, is here at the conference, and he starts May 11. We are obviously trying to retain talent in New Jersey. We are doing everything we can to incentivize and create opportunity and work with our institutions and others to retain talent and work with the talent inside the state. We see this as part of our mission.

We did hire Forough Ghahramani as associate vice president for research, innovation, and sponsored programs at Edge. She will be at the forefront of the research segment of our network. Research is proliferating regionally and nationally, and we want to increase the level of research activity. Research is all about collaboration. She will oversee promoting those collaborations and bringing more value to the state of New Jersey through the technology transfer programs that bring in capital investment dollars for people who want to start new businesses. We have a new status with Internet2 called “connector” status, so we are directly providing our institutions with Internet2 connectivity.

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