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W&L, RANA Dedicate the Peterson Co-Location Center

The 4,500-square-foot co-location center serving both Washington and Lee University and the Rockbridge Area Network Authority was formally dedicated on Friday, June 14, as the Richard A. Peterson Center.

Situated on the W&L campus just north of the School of Law, the new facility has replaced the aging data center on the University’s campus. It allows multiple service providers to co-locate their network equipment as part of the county-wide broadband project that was initiated in 2010 with the receipt of a $6.9 million federal grant.

The building, which has been in operation since November 2012, when the University moved its servers into the space, is named for Rick Peterson, W&L’s former chief technology officer, who died in January 2011. Peterson had been the guiding force who brought the various parties together to apply for the grant.

“Rick Peterson’s vision led three governments to join the University, and their will to work together led to this,” said Hunt Reigel, chairman of the Rockbridge Area Network Authority. “The center that we dedicate today will be the hub of RANA’s network links. The notion that Washington and Lee could leverage its interest in constructing a data center into a major hub for communications in the region was due, in large part, to Rick’s efforts.”

Washington and Lee contributed $2.5 million of $3 million toward the project. The $6.9 million grant was one of 94 Recovery Act investments in broadband projects in 37 states that were announced in 2010.

The RANA project plans to connect to broadband up to 50 community institutions throughout Rockbridge County.

“Rick was a visionary of what could be,” said Steve McAllister, vice president for finance and treasurer at W&L. “He saw the possibility of a plan that could both meet the needs of the University but also provide a greater good to the wider community.”

Since it was completed in November, the Peterson Center has been operating as a node on W&L’s state-of-the-art fiber ring, supplementing a second node on the other end of the campus.

Calling the building “a geek’s paradise,” David Saacke, who succeeded Peterson as chief technology officer, said that the benefits of the center are already being felt.

“This center is the central nervous system to the total (RANA) project. This building is a hub with miles of giver spokes through the cities and into the far extremes of the county,” said Saacke. “It’s going to have huge potential for future technological services to be delivered to businesses and residences.

“The benefit to W&L is in broadband competition. In a rural area, we pay high dollar. But before we light up a single customer on RANA, our new contract is significantly better because they know that we’re coming.”

In describing Peterson’s contribution to the RANA project, Saacke, like McAllister, used the word “visionary,” adding that Peterson had the perfect balance, as a visionary with an appreciation for the “now.”

“He understood the need to deliver instead of simply talking about it,” Saacke said.

Members of Peterson’s family attended, including his widow, Mary Peterson, a customer service specialist in W&L’s Facilities Management Department. Noting that “Rick always found that a good challenge was fun,” she added that the center and Friday’s gathering for the dedication were tributes to “his larger-than-life spirit and his ability to bring people together.”