The universe and all its potential is only a click away in Western North Carolina.

The Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute (PARI) is a public not-for-profit foundation established in 1998. Located in the Pisgah Forest 30 miles southwest of Asheville, the 200-acre PARI campus is a perfect dark-sky location for astronomy.

But, the facility is so much more.

PARI has a rich history spanning several decades where it has served the country in multiple roles – everything from being a NASA site for tracking manned and unmanned space flights in the 1960s and 70s to intelligence gathering during the Cold War.

In 1995, the U.S. Department of Defense closed the facility, and it was turned over to the U.S. Forest Service. A few years later it was acquired to use as an astronomical research and educational facility where it continues today to mostly focus on the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education needs for North Carolina students.

PARI offers educational programs at almost every level and also has become a recognized center for world-class research while providing innovative opportunities for all students in every geographic location.

The successful work performed at PARI, however, does require one very important component: High-speed connectivity.

About five years ago, PARI began working with MCNC in Research Triangle Park to connect to the North Carolina Research and Education Network (NCREN). Since that time, according to PARI’s founder and president Don Cline, the impact of the level of connectivity NCREN has provided at the facility has been tremendous.

“While the value of an institution like PARI to individuals is enormous, to our society it is priceless,” said Cline. “But, while our location is perfect for science, it can present obstacles for people getting here or spending much time here. Therefore, over the years, we have developed a remote-learning approach to most of our programs.“

In fact, he further explained, PARI has pioneered many aspects of remote learning being employed today in North Carolina and throughout the country. The high-speed broadband connectivity on NCREN has boosted those efforts to the next level, allowing people from across the state and around the world to access and use many of PARI’s leading-edge scientific instruments as if they sitting in the same room.

“The power of NCREN gives us the ability to share the real science happening at PARI with thousands of students, teachers, researchers, and science enthusiasts throughout North Carolina and all over the world,” said Cline. “This level of connectivity is a key component to extending our programs and services to a broader segment of the population.”

MCNC recently established a data center presence on the PARI campus to continue providing connectivity services at the facility as well as expanding its capabilities so others in the area can also gain access to this valuable commodity.

The MCNC data center housed inside the PARI Research Building has a 1,500 square-foot, raised-floor space available for many companies, organizations or institutions to locate racks or computing operations. The building was constructed to stringent U.S. Department of Defense standards as a secure, stand-alone site with 45 tons of cooling, 500 kilowatts per hour of uninterruptible power supply (UPS), and a 500-kwh diesel generator.

The facility has been upgraded within the last two years with a $1.5 million renovation investment funded by PARI and the National Science Foundation. Along with the facility and the data center, reliable NCREN connectivity makes the site even more attractive for organizations that need a secure site in the western part of the state.

Coupled with PARI’s secure and sophisticated infrastructure, according to PARI CIO Lamar Owen, NCREN connectivity makes PARI an ideal location for remote computing, data storage, and disaster recovery IT operations.

“This will increase our efforts to make the user experience a more positive one,” added Owen. “MCNC and NCREN mean more than just connectivity. They are a resource providing things that wouldn’t otherwise be possible.”

Astronomy was the first science – the bedrock of all technology. PARI will continue to expand on its mission and successful programs while also developing new ideas in networking. A critical area to achieve these goals requires funding, connectivity, public-private partnerships, bandwidth, and even better remote-accessing capabilities.

“PARI provides a tremendous opportunity to take research and education out of the classroom and into the realm of the imagination,” said MCNC President and CEO Joe Freddoso. “This is a facility that works to create excitement and provides a great value to citizens in North Carolina.”