A Network Pioneer: KanREN

The internet was a much different place in 1992. Still in its infancy as a public network, the term “surfing the internet” was coined and popularized that year.

The New York Times had yet to write a single article about the World Wide Web or the first browser, and the launch of Amazon.com was still two years away. But in Kansas, the public universities across the state collaborated to create KanREN, a pioneer in research and education networks.

“It came about in 1992 on an NSF (National Science Foundation) grant out of the University of Kansas,” said Chris Crook, KanREN’s executive director. “It became clear over time that it needed dedicated staff to build the network and to keep it functioning.” KanREN is the internet service provider (ISP) for many institutions, nonprofits and community anchors across the state. Currently, its 70 members cover about 600 locations across Kansas.

Hear from KanREN’s
Executive Director, Chris Crook.

The Need for Speed

The average ISP can bring about one gigabit into a home or business, which is more than most people will ever use. But in 1992, developing networks and peer-to-peer connectivity took a lot of work. Large file transfers being done by university researchers wouldn’t happen on a standard business connection. Currently, KanREN has 100 gigabit capacity, and the future is even faster, with possible speeds between 400 and 800 gigabits on the organization’s newly installed optical network. “This opens the door for a lot of people,” said Crook. “That speed is something they can actually use to create new products and compete in that developing space.”

KanREN is the enterprise network for KU Innovation Park and its companies. Both wireless and hard-wired connections are on the same fiber used at the University of Kansas. “Your connectivity is going to be unrivaled,” Crook said. “The reliability, the uptime of KanREN is far, far superior to a location internet service provider for a business class or residential class connection.” And because KanREN works with nonprofits and community anchors, the only place to access its network as a for-profit business is at KU Innovation Park.

Changing the Game

KanREN works closely with the Kansas Office of Broadband Development to discuss upcoming opportunities and look at the future of fiber internet across the state. Since the organization works with many rural communities, having a dedicated technology staff through KanREN provides optimization and connectivity to areas that might not otherwise have it. Some large initiatives in Kansas, including Broadband Equity Access and Deployment (BEAD) and federal funding for an infrastructure connectivity grant, are set to have huge impacts. “One grant is 600 miles of fiber that will connect Kansas City to Pittsburg and then Pittsburg to Wichita, Wichita to Seward County,” said Crook. “There’s a lot of opportunity there for us to pick up potential members and to provide that service. These next five years in Kansas, fiber infrastructure is going to be game-changing. KanREN is going to be there for that. It’s exciting.”

Perks of the Park

While KanREN provides a significant amenity for the Park, Crook said the organization has benefitted from its location in the main facility. Its next-door neighbor, Invary, is assisting with its software to increase KanREN’s security profile. “Invary creates a rootkit detection software, which we have implemented on our servers,” said Crook. “Invaruy was a perfect fit for KanREN for improving our security posture.” Crook has had the opportunity to talk to classes at the KU School of Business and even connected with a potential intern at an event hosted by the Park during the KU Alumni Association’s KYou Networking Week. “It’s not only been helpful (being at the Park) from a business perspective,” Crook said. “It’s also been helpful for community outreach and to speak to what is really our future, which are the students that are nearby.”