It looked like just an ordinary Tuesday during the summer on the campus of The University of Memphis a couple of weeks ago.  A few students, faculty and people in business attire wandered among the groundskeepers, and a constant flow of cars went in and out of the parking garage on Innovation Drive.  But, if you watched the doors of the FedEx Institute of Technology, you soon realized that an amazing collection of leaders from the Memphis education, technology, medical, bioscience, research, distribution, as well as local and state economic development and political worlds was filing in.  Toss in a few reporters and photographers and you have a rather remarkable event.

What drew this amazing array of collaboration was the official launch of the Memphis Coalition for Advanced Networking’s (MCAN) ultra high speed fiber-optic communications network.  In just a few minutes time, with the firing up of an ultra-high speed 10-gigabit-per-second data network, everything changed in terms of Memphis research and business development opportunity.

You see, this 10-gigabit-per-second data network connection makes anything any of us currently operate on seem slower than a bicycle at the Indy 500.   In fact, the MCAN connection is 180,000 times quicker than the dial-up we were using just last decade or almost 3,000 times faster than our current broadband.  Dr. Bill Evans, St. Jude director and CEO, told those attending the launch that Medical data that previously would have taken his team more than three hours to transfer may now be downloaded in a matter of minutes.

If you are in research at one of MCAN’s founding members – the University of Memphis, University of Tennessee Health Sciences Center, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, or the Memphis Bioworks® Foundation – you suddenly find yourself connected as if next door to the world’s fastest computer in Oak Ridge, the national Internet2 research network, a consortium of 200 universities, 70 leading corporations, 45 government agencies and 50 international partner organizations.

MCAN will not only allow Memphis scientists to better participate in global research, it is also designed to generate economic benefit from advanced networking applications.  Russell Ingram, president and executive director of MCAN explained to the crowd, “The launch of this ultra high-speed research link creates intriguing potential for the Memphis business and entrepreneurial community. Connectivity at this speed will allow development of novel technologies and applications that would otherwise not be possible, leading to new businesses and jobs.”

MCAN is the result of several years of work by the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and the Memphis community. In 2008, the State of Tennessee granted a contract to Oak Ridge to create a high-speed link between Oak Ridge and Memphis. In 2009, Oak Ridge requested the participation of the Memphis community in designing and implementing that link.  In early 2010, the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development funded the joint MCAN/Oak Ridge project with a grant of $3 million.

Yes, it was an ordinary day at the University of Memphis.  An ordinary 10-gigabit-per-second, world of opportunity, complete community collaboration day that everyone in greater Memphis will benefit from in one way or another.