When employees working at the Jessie Ball duPont Center log on to the internet, they jump onto a technology highway with ultra-high speeds, top-level security and advanced features — a highway that is largely unknown to the vast majority of Jacksonville users.
This internet network is the crown jewel of a technology infrastructure that makes the Jessie Ball duPont Center arguably the most technologically advanced building in downtown Jacksonville — and one of the most advanced in Northeast Florida.
“Our goal was to create the kind of technology environment that everyone dreams of but that can be frustratingly hard to find,” said Mark Walker, knowledge management and technology officer for the Jessie Ball duPont Fund, which owns the Center. “We found some great people both nationally and locally who helped us realize that dream.”
Located in the former Haydon Burns Library in downtown Jacksonville, the Jessie Ball duPont Center is home to more than a dozen local nonprofit organizations. (While about half of the tenants already are in the building, the Center does not officially open until Friday June 26.) The Jessie Ball duPont Fund purchased the abandoned city library in July 2013 and spent more than 18 months renovating the structure to house nonprofits and provide gathering spaces for the community. Today, the Center has, in Walker’s words:
But for Greg Bugbee, one of the wizards who helped construct the system, the real story is not just in the hardware.
“The real story is in the ability of nonprofits of various sizes to come together and participate in something that they may not be able to access on their own,” he said. “From a single person, or two-person nonprofit to a 100-person organization, they can all access an extremely high quality, enterprise grade system.”
Bugbee is senior advisor for information technology at Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology — CCAT — which also is a nonprofit organization, providing a wide array of services to business, government, education and nonprofits. CCAT, based in East Hartford, was part of a team of organizations that collaborated to create the Jessie Ball duPont Center’s custom technology environment.
“What you have [at the Jessie Ball duPont Center] is very unique to the marketplace,” said Jered Bearden, director of Dedicated Fiber Systems, Inc. a Jacksonville-based dark fiber optic network provider that also was part of the team. “Your internet access is completely private and totally in your control.”
Let’s take a look:
Most internet users are accustomed to accessing the internet via a network provided by a commercial carrier. These networks are like the interstate highways of the internet, carrying an enormous volume of traffic and connecting with the equivalent of state and local highways before delivering content to your computing screen. In the path from source to your screen, even major carriers may have to rely on some bumpy roads: outdated technology that isn’t built to handle the streaming demands of today’s modern Internet.
But Florida, like 17 other states, has created what is known as a “private fiber network” — a private “Information Autobahn” that provides ultra high-speed internet access to a very select group of users. These users are largely institutions of higher education (including the University of North Florida) and smaller research institutions, health care facilities and governments (including the City of Jacksonville).
Called Florida LambdaRail (FLR), this statewide fiber optic network is owned by 12 equity partners (all Florida research institutions) and is “dedicated to producing knowledge and prosperity within the state of Florida through education and research activities …FLR brings together people, resources, and information, enables resource aggregation and sharing over large distances, and fosters innovation and discovery.”
At the Jessie Ball duPont Fund’s request, Florida LambdaRail’s board of trustees approved a proposal to make the Jessie Ball duPont Center a Florida LambdaRail affiliate, allowing its private fiber network to provide ultra high-speed, high-capacity internet service to the Center’s tenants and users.
With the support of Dedicated Fiber Systems, the Jessie Ball duPont Center built its own direct connection to the Florida LambdaRail via a dark fiber “last mile” loop. The “last mile” is that part of data’s voyage that occurs from the datacenter to the utility pole, into your house and to your computer. In the case of the Jessie Ball duPont Center, the last mile is a direct and redundant dark fiber connection between the Center and Florida LambdaRail, guaranteeing high speed and reliability.
“Most businesses are buying bandwidth from a carrier,” said DFS’ Bearden. “That’s all most businesses know they can get. But with the dark fiber connection, there is no limitation on the amount of bandwidth between the Jessie Ball duPont Center and Florida LambdaRail.”
More than half of the tenant organizations in the Jessie Ball duPont Center must adhere to government-required high security regulations because of the nature of their business. They may gather information on individuals’ finances, health status or criminal records, or they may work with minor children. Ensuring that each organization’s data remains secure is non-negotiable.
The technology team created a system that gives each tenant its own security zone with firewalls that are managed by CCAT. Redundancies abound — the wireless controllers, firewalls and switching systems are redundant, as is the “last mile” loop that connects to Florida LambdaRail. And there is uninterruptible power with generator backups in case of a major grid failure.
In addition to the secure zones for each tenant, the building itself has a secure zone — an intranet that enables tenants to access an array of “building management” functions, from reserving rooms in the building to communicating with other tenants.
But the pathway from tenant zones to that “building zone” is a one-way street — the tenant can go from his zone to the common building zone, but there is no pathway from the building zone back to the tenant zone.
The Center is designed around the concept of private work space and shared gathering space. Tenants have their own offices but meeting rooms, training rooms, board rooms — even kitchens — are shared.
The building’s technology infrastructure allows each tenant to have its own private network within its offices AND be able to access that network and its data from a shared space without any loss of privacy.
Moreover, the Center provides technology features that make those shared spaces highly attractive including:
Creating this collaborative environment AND providing a compatible technology environment was considered critical to achieving the vision for the Center. And that vision inspired members of the team.
“Nonprofits are near and dear to our owner’s heart,” said Bearden of DFS. “Once we found out what the Center wanted to do, we were totally committed. Dedicated Fiber Systems is very proud to be playing such a critical role in the backbone fiber infrastructure needs for the Center.”
“CCAT is proud to be part of the Jessie Ball duPont Center’s remarkable facility that offers nonprofits one of the most technologically advanced office environments in which to work and collaborate,” said Elliot Ginsberg, president and CEO of CCAT. “We believe that collaboration with other nonprofits, industry, academia and government partners is fundamental to success. With the state-of-the-art internet network we’ve helped create, we’re confident that nonprofit organizations at the Center will have the systems needed to thrive in today’s innovative, high-tech world.”
The Jessie Ball duPont Fund invested more than $1.9 million in the building’s technology, in part because the owners recognized how good technology can save money. Big money.
According to the Nonprofit Technology Network, nonprofits spend an average of $2,900 per non-salary employee per year on information technology.
By moving to a well-managed, coordinated, high-quality technology environment, organizations can eliminate surprises and reduce costs by sharing solutions.
United Way of Northeast Florida, for example, anticipates saving $50,000 annually on the cost of its 211 emergency call services by using the Center’s internet-based telephone system. Using Mitel’s cloud-based phone system, the Center will allow United Way and other organizations to temporarily add phone lines with ease and minimal costs during campaigns, telethons and other seasonal activities, further reducing costs.
“Most nonprofits cannot afford the up-front costs that enable them to take advantage of the benefits of technology,” said Sherry Magill, president of the Jessie Ball duPont Fund. “The undergirding premise of the Jessie Ball duPont Center is that by doing things collaboratively, these organizations can afford to invest in themselves and operate more effectively, which ultimately benefits the people and community that they serve.”
Mary Kress Littlepage
KBT & Associates
Developing the Jessie Ball duPont Center technology infrastructure was a team effort, bringing an array of talented folks to the table.
Mark Walker, knowledge management and technology officer for the Jessie Ball duPont Fund, served as maestro, finding the right players, coordinating their activities and connecting the technology work with the “hard” construction agenda of the building.
Jaffe Holden, of Norwalk, Connecticut, came on site early in the process to evaluate the setting and provide a fully integrated IT infrastructure, network, audiovisual and security systems design for the Center.
Dedicated Fiber Systems, Inc., Jacksonville, played a critical role in connecting the Jessie Ball duPont Center to Florida LambdaRail using its dark fiber network and providing affordable access for 10 years.
Florida LambdaRail, Tallahassee, welcomed the Center into its network and serves as the Internet Service Provider for the Center.
Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology, East Hartford, Connecticut, is a nonprofit economic development organization that, among other things, helps build and maintain reliable and affordable IT infrastructures. They built and will continue to manage and support the building’s IT infrastructure and provide an array of supports to its tenants.
Mitel, New York, provides MiCloud, cloud-based phone services to the building and its tenants.