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Technique | Rhode Island's judicial center taps dark fiber to boost its infrastructure<@VM>Lessons Learned

Light from Dark: Robert Baynes says a more robust network will make further improvements easier.

WPN Photo by Bryce Vickmark

Less than three years ago, the Rhode Island Judicial Technology Center had a network about as fast as the state's official mollusk, the quahog.

And it wasn't just that it was slow. It was unreliable. 'People would just get kicked off the system,' said Robert Baynes, assistant state court administrator and executive director at the Judicial Technology Center.

The network ran on leased T1 lines, which didn't provide enough bandwidth and caused electronic traffic jams and chronic e-mail problems.

The RIJTC network links more than 2,000 users in all the state's major courts, including the supreme court, superior court, family court, district court, workers' compensation court and traffic tribunal. Courthouses are located in Providence, Warwick, Cranston, Wakefield and Newport.

And for such a small state, the court system must hold a large amount of data, with nearly 600,000 legal cases in the database.

Baynes wanted to upgrade the information technology services the center provides, such as video feeds for courtroom trials. To do this, he would need to find a lot more bandwidth. But where?

The answer was right under Baynes' feet.

Rhode Island has a huge network of dark fiber that had been laid in the late 1990s. The miles of fiber-optic cable were supposed to spark a big technology boom, Baynes said. 'Well, it never happened, at least not in Rhode Island.'

Rhode Island, the Ocean State, is a member of OSHEAN, a consortium of nonprofit organizations that was formed to foster the development of a communications infrastructure for Rhode Island's research, educational and public service community. OSHEAN ' which initially stood for Ocean State Higher Education Economic Development and Administrative Network but now seems to go strictly by the acronym ' leases the miles of dark fiber laid in the 1990s that have gone unused.

Cisco Systems and systems integrator Atrion Networking worked with OSHEAN to deploy the network. The judicial center also upgraded its hardware to Intel Itanium servers from Hewlett-Packard and migrated from Microsoft Windows to an HP-UX platform. The old hardware was donated to a local museum.

Atrion engineers oversaw the cabling of the last mile to the courts and installing switches, firewalls and routers. The company also provided hardware support, network management and monitoring.

The court system has two data centers, in Providence and Warwick, about 18 miles apart. 'They're fully redundant, mirrored data centers,' Baynes said. 'We upgraded to Unix platforms because they're much better at mirroring.'

Now that the more robust network is in place, the court system can go ahead with plans to expand the use of the bandwidth, Baynes said.

RIJTC wants to connect two HP EVA6000 configurations using the network. The new courthouse in Warwick also houses a small data center that's connected to the other data centers. If one center goes down, users would be automatically shifted to the other.

'The goal is to make a solid infrastructure that can recover from a catastrophe,' Baynes said. 'But it also gives to citizens a robust judicial system.'

The fiber-optic network was not as expensive as people might think, especially when compared to the cost of leasing lines from the phone company, Baynes said.
'The fiber is there,' he said. 'Lots of places have dark fiber that's not being used.'

Center officials have noticed a drastic improvement in response time because of the network. Complaints to the help desk about slow response times have plummeted to almost nonexistent, Baynes said.

By solving an immediate problem ' insufficient bandwidth ' the judicial center prepared for long-term needs by providing a robust, stable network, Baynes said.
The RIJTC also recently unveiled a four-year plan to go paperless ' a major undertaking for a court system in which official records still must be filed on paper. The court system's newly robust infrastructure will help make the paperless court system possible.
Nightclub fire sentencing streamed out on new network

The sentencing of a band's tour manager for a nightclub fire offered the first chance to test the Rhode Island Judicial Technology Center's revamped fiber-optic
network.

On May 10, 2006, sentencing began in Rhode Island's superior court for the Station nightclub fire, the fourth-deadliest nightclub fire in U.S. history. The fire, which occurred on Feb. 20, 2003, at a nightclub in West Warwick, R.I., killed 100 people.

The courtroom couldn't hold all of the relatives and friends of the victims. RIJTC's newly robust network let the court send a live video feed via the Web so that people could watch the sentencing via a browser.

The courthouse was wired so that TV cameras could send a live signal that Court TV picked up.

'We took the signal off the TV camera and streamed it out onto the network via an OSHEAN streamer,' said Robert Baynes, assistant state court administrator and executive director at the Judicial Technology Center.

Students at the Roger Williams University School of Law in Bristol, R.I., viewed the live sentencing from their classroom. 'It really showed the flexibility of our network and its ability to stream live video from 18 miles away,' Baynes said.

The tour manager of the band that was playing the evening of the fire, Great White, was sentenced to 15 years in prison, with four years to serve and 11 years suspended, plus three years' probation, for his role in the fire. The band used pyrotechnics in the show that evening that lit flammable soundproof foam behind the stage. The audience thought at first it was part of the show, until the fire reached the ceiling and black smoke started to fill the small nightclub.

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