Research is critical to the mission of every land-grant university, and Montana State University (MSU) in Bozeman, Mont., is recognized nationally among leading public research universities for its prominence in research. The university ranks in the top 3 percent of colleges and universities for research expenditures, which exceed $130 million annually.

At MSU, research networking supports innovation and discovery in fields that include immunology, chemistry and biochemistry, transportation, physics, and land resources and environmental sciences. Research networking allows the university to share information broadly—and quickly. And software-defined access (SD-Access) ensures that the network delivers the performance researchers require.

It was critical to see beyond whether the network was working to how the network could be a resource to empower work.

What is SD-Access?
At MSU—and at other organizations across the globe—SD-Access decouples network functions from hardware. Since the user access policy is defined in software—and applied across a single network fabric—the right policy can be assigned to each user, including researchers, for a consistent user experience, regardless of location and without compromising security. Plus, automation allows IT administrators to design, provision, and manage the network more efficiently.

“Cisco SD-Access is a very user-centric way to think about networking,” explains Jerry Sheehan, vice president for information technology and chief information officer at MSU. “Roles are defined in the software, which means that researchers have the credentials to get the network performance they need regardless of where they log in on campus. With a physical network, a user is limited by their physical space; with Cisco SD-Access, a user’s location doesn’t matter. The real promise of SD-Access is that we can change the environment to meet the needs of any user, and this approach ties directly back to our values, our vision, and our emphasis on the user experience.” Read more from Jerry Sheehan here.

Watch this short video to see SD-Access at work at MSU:

MSU’s best practices for research networking 

  1. View research networking as the harbinger of advances to come. The team at MSU believes that if they get research networking right, they’ll see, then master, the challenges and opportunities possible for their enterprise network, and ultimately improve services for all users.
  2. Keep mission in mind. MSU’s land-grant mission is at the core of everything it does, and when it comes to technology investments, enabling learning, discovery, and engagement are top of mind. First and foremost, Sheehan notes, “We are focused on technologies that empower our users to do the work they need to do in the most efficient way possible. Our technology strategy is designed to make sure we invest in the resources that will meet our user needs.”
  3. Use research networking to shift the conversation. To understand researcher requirements, MSU’s IT team had to engage closely with researchers in their labs and in their communities. It was critical to see beyond whether the network was working to how the network could be a resource to empower work.
  4. Leverage alternative sources for funding. Vendors and other partners can provide valuable support for efforts to solicit and win grants for technology investments. MSU worked with Cisco on its proposal to the National Science Foundation Campus Cyberinfrastructure Grant Program and was awarded funding for the Bridger Scientific Research Network. The innovation made possible through the Bridger Network became the foundation for the university’s expanding research capabilities.

Discover more about research networking at MSU:



Donna Eason

Global Customer Marketing Writer