UbuntuNet – Connect  2008 Scheduled for Lilongwe 11th November 2008

In addition to the Open Access Conference starting on 12th November 2008, the Warm Heart of Africa, Malawi, will also host the UbuntuNet Alliance annual conference, UbuntuNet- Connect, on 11th November 2008.  The theme for this year’s conference is “Driving effective research and education networking in Africa”, and will include presentations on NREN operations; content networks; international and national fibre cable opportunities (including access strategies); as well as lessons and opportunities provided by selected international research and education networks.  An NREN clinic at the end of the day will provide opportunity for participants to discuss specific challenges facing NRENS at the operational level.  Afrinic will specifically be invited to guide NRENs in assessing needs and actually completing applications for independent address space on site.

A key feature of the UbuntuNet Connect conferences is interactivity: half of the available time will be devoted to input from the floor, maximising experience sharing and participation.

UbuntuNet Alliance at  AFREN3

As Chair of UbuntuNet Alliance, appointed by the Association of African Universities (AAU) to that position, I was pleased to accept the Association’s invitation to attend the AFREN 3, meeting in Rabat, Morocco from 30 May to 1 June 2008.

I was accompanied by two other Directors of UbuntuNet Alliance, Dr Duncan Martin who is also CEO of TENET, and  Mrs Margaret Ngwira who heads the Alliance Secretariat and is also a Librarian in the University of Malawi. I had the honour to chair the ‘Way Forward’  session and participated in the ‘Round Table on Advocacy and Policy Development’. Dr Martin and Mrs Ngwira both made presentations that were well received.

The meeting also afforded us an opportunity of gettting to know our West African colleagues who are also involved in the important task of NREN formation, with leadership from the Nigerian ICT Forum. Prior to the Rabat meeting, Dr. Tusubira, the Acting CEO, and Albert Nsengiyumva (also CEO of Rwednet ) went to Abuja in March this year to work with our West African colleagues on modalities of collaboration in bandwidth consolidation through the Bandwidth Consortium, NREN formation and interconnection, and bringing content networks on board. In the meantime, human networking is an important beginning!

UbuntuNet looks forward to the time when Interconnection of our networks is a reality.

In this respect, I also appreciated the opportunity of meeting and renewing acquaintances with fellow Vice Chancellors from Senegal and Ethiopia, and with donors, partners and policy makers from organisations such as the Carnegie Corporation, INASP and WATRA.

We thank Dr Boubakar Barry for giving this opportunity to UbuntuNet Alliance which now has ten member NRENs and several other affiliated NRENs-in-construction. He works tirelessly in this area and actively participated in the UbuntuNet Allicane Council of Members meeting in Lusaka in April 2008 and the IST Africa on EU-Africa e-infrastructure in Windhoek in May 2008. He deserves encouragement to continue working through the AAU REN Unit and AFREN, this vital forum of the AAU, to address the critical issue of ICT infrastructure development for Higher Education that was considered as high priority at the 11th General Conference of the AAU held in Cape Town, South Africa, in February 2005.

IEEAF Details Major Donation to RENU As Part of Its African Global Quilt  Initiative

IEEAF Board Chair Don Riley and Board Member Ed Fantegrossi (and CEO of GEO and GMRE) attended a workshop in Kampala, Uganda, on October 16 & 17, 2007, to announce and begin the planning for a high speed backbone for the Research and Education Network of Uganda (RENU).  The Minister of ICT, Hon Dr Ham-Mukasa Mulira, was the Guest of Honour at the workshop that was held in partnership with Ubuntunet Alliance, RENU, IEEAF, and a team from the University of Washington.

Workshop participants with (starting third right) Prof Z Kadzamira, the Chairman of UbuntuNet Alliance; Prof Don Riley, Chairman of the Board of IEEAF, Hon Dr Ham-Mukasa Mulira, Minister of ICT, Uganda; and Ed Fantegrossi, CEO of Geo and GMRE.

 The high speed backbone will be based upon fiber optic cable in Uganda that has been donated to the IEEAF by Uganda Telecom (UTL), through the efforts of the Global Medical Research Exchange (GMRE).  Plans for the RENU backbone include high speed connectivity to the global R&E networking community via the Seacom submarine cable system, when it becomes operational next year.

The Kampala meeting was held to announce both the commencement of both the IEEAF Global Quilt Initiative for Africa and the planning for lighting of dark fiber in Uganda to form the core of the high speed backbone for RENU – the Research and Education Network of Uganda. Both initiatives are enabled through the efforts of Ed Fantegrossi and the Global Medical Research Exchanges, LLC (GMRE).  GMRE will be establishing internet exchange facilities and data centers in each of the country capitals that will be touched by the Seacom submarine cable system, which will become operational summer of 2009, as well as other capitals that will be reached via terrestrial fiber backbones being constructed to connect to Seacom.  Backed by a $1.7 billion investment fund, GMRE will also be building science and technology parks around the exchange points and data centers.

Through the efforts of GMRE, IEEAF has obtained dark fiber in Uganda from Uganda Telecom (UTL) and will be lighting up and equipping the fiber for the core backbone for RENU.   GMRE will also be donating to IEEAF 10 Gbps bandwidth from RENU to the Seacom cable, and 10Gbps connectivity over Seacom back to Europe and the rest of the global NREN community.  The 10Gbps international connectivity will be available for sharing by the members of the Ubuntunet Alliance who wish to take advantage of this opportunity.  Additional terrestrial fiber donations to IEEAF from GMRE are anticipated.The Kampala meeting was also the first of two initial workshops on the design and management of optical network infrastructure, with a specific objective of defining the initial design and architecture for the RENU backbone.  The workshops focused on issues associated with building and managing a research and education optical network using lessons learned and case studies to help illuminate issues, challenges, opportunities, and models associated with deploying optical infrastructure.

The Kampala workshop provided an overview of current efforts related to African NREN development, including those of the IEEAF/GMRE, with a focus on defining the architecture and design of the Uganda optical network, as one of the steps in the UbuntuNet Alliance’s plans for optical networks throughout Eastern and Southern Africa aimed at enabling the UbtuntuNet Alliance members to further engage with the global R&E community.  The Kampala workshop, as the launch meeting, was attended by representatives from various organizations and agencies from within Uganda and Uganda Telecom; RENU network engineers and administrators who will be involved in the planning, designing, and implementing of the Uganda research and education network; representatives from RENU member institutions, UbuntuNet Board members, network engineers and administrators to both observe the RENU effort as a learning experience and contribute to the process; policy makers, regulators, and the private sector from Uganda; IEEAF engineers and administrators who will offer their experiences as a model of how to approach the design and management of an optical network (including experiences of what not to do!); and a few medical/health content experts interested in informing themselves about technical developments that will be critical to research, education, and clinical programs and projects.

A highlight of the meeting was the speech of the Minister of ICT, Hon Dr Ham-Mukasa-Mulira, during which he announced additional fiber would be made available to RENU from the new national fiber backbone that was under construction.

A second workshop was subsequently held at the University of Washington in Seattle, Washington, November 29-30, as a technical follow-on to the Kampala workshop focused solely on technical aspects of the network architecture and design of the RENU optical network and its deployment.  Participants from Africa included the RENU technical team, one technical participant from each of the Ubuntunet Alliance members, the Bandwidth Consortium, NIH (Kampala), Cisco Systems, and USAID.   Travel expenses for the African participants were covered by USAID.

The purpose of these workshops, and others to follow, is to

  • Receive a full brief from IEEAF and GMRE on plans for East African exchange facilities and donations to IEEAF of fiber and international submarine cable access and seek clarifications.
  • To learn from IEAAF’s experiences working in other places of the world
  • To begin implementation of an optical network in Uganda as a learning experience, and as part of a larger UnbuntuNet Alliance plan.
  • To support RENU in the more detailed definition of how the roll out in Uganda will be conducted.  The UbuntuNet Alliance team and the IEEAF team will give input that will help in defining how Uganda will move ahead, and at the same time model a common architecture approach that will be used in other countries (with appropriate and suitable localization) to which we shall move after Uganda.
  • To energize the NRENs among the UbuntuNet Alliance and arm them with a real example (in addition to the formal association with IEEAF) that will become essential in negotiating with the private sector and government in their countries.
  • To give UbuntuNet Alliance a higher regional and international profile as a key place in research and education networking.
  • To hold smaller meetings with IEEAF around issues that might be peculiar to different countries in the UbuntuNet Alliance.To discuss approaches to and best practices in working with faculty and researchers to help them understand how to take advantage of and use these new capabilities, and to consider issues of “end-to-end” performance issues at the campus/research institute level.
  • To establish and build relationships among GMRE, RENU and other UbuntuNet NREN members, and IEEAF colleagues based on a common set of understandings.
  • To initiate discussion of possible medical and health related collaborations that can leverage the connectivity and GMRE initiative.

An example of a network topology – that of the Pacific Northwest Gigapop (in the Northwestern United States) – served as the basis for case studies covering topics ranging from designing and building a RON; managing a RON and connecting to other regional, national, and international networks; strategy and procurement of fiber infrastructure and equipment; and technical implementation, in particular deploying and managing equipment over a RON topology.

(See news item at http://www.newvision.co.ug/D/8/220/592483)

Development Partners to be Enganged to Support CORENA Implementation

The studies phase (Phase 1) of the major UbuntuNet Alliance initiative, “Consolidating Research and Education Networking in Africa (CORENA)”, is well under way, with member NRENs invited to participate in the studies.  The Research and Education Network of Uganda, RENU, will handle the development of the Monitoring and Evaluation plan using internal experts who have, over time, received specific training for this purpose.  The implementation of Phase 1 has been accelerated so that the resulting Master Plan (the underpinning for Phase 2) can be presented to development partners on the 10th of November 2008 in Lilongwe, Malawi for funding and other support.

 NREN Startup and Development – HELP is at hand!

Within the Alliance, NRENs are at various stages of development – most nearer the beginning than maturity!  Each has a lot in common with the others, but also has its own unique characteristics.

It is good to have some guidance as to the direction we should follow in starting up and growing a successful NREN.  On the Alliance website under Documentation

(http://www.ubuntunet.net/documentation.htm)  is a link to the excellent manual by Alex Twinomugisha:   Understanding NRENs and Key Considerations for Setting them up.   This was found very useful within MAREN.

One of the outputs of Phase 1 of the CORENA project of the Alliance is a series of short Toolkits that will also assist NRENs in various aspects of their formation and operations.  Another recently available document aimed firstly at Library Consortia has been developed by Arnold Hirshon, Executive Director of NELINET, and is available from the Secretariat. This helps benchmark where you are in your NREN development, and comforts you when things are a bit tough that this is a normal stage of development.  MALICOwww.malico.mw found this valuable.

The other resource that is a great help in starting up is a FRENIA (Fostering Research and Education Networking in Africa) NREN startup grant.  The FRENIA funding, administered by the TENET, is provided by the Andrew Mellon Foundation.  Details can be found at http://protea.tenet.ac.za/frenia/  (or contact Geoff Hoy at ghoy@tenet.ac.za for more details).

MAREN  in Link With ICTP to Pilot Telemedicine

The Malawi Research and Education Network (MAREN) in collaboration with the Aeronomy and Radio Propagation Laboratory (ARPL) of the Abdus Salam International Centre of Theoretical Physics (ICTP), Trieste,Italy, is planning to conduct a long-distance wireless network pilot project for Healthcare/Telemedicine applications through the Malawi Polytechnic and College of Medicine.

The goal of the project is to improve the delivery of healthcare services by providing better access to information and timely communication among healthcare service providers. Furthermore, the project aims to strengthen MAREN members’ capacity to lead and conduct research and development projects in low-cost wireless network technologies and their applications in development sectors of Malawi (healthcare, education, agriculture, etc); thus contributing towards national development aspirations as articulated through the Malawi Growth and Development Strategy (MGDS) 2006-2011 and the UNDP Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Among partners are the Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (MACRA), who have waived registration fees; MBC who are accommodating our repeater station at Mpingwe Hill; TVM who are accommodating our repeater station on Ndirande Hill; ICTP who have donated equipment and provided technical support; and College of Medicine and Malawi Polytechnic who are providing personnel to manage the network.

Bandwidth Management Workshops: RENU, KENET, INASP and Library Consortia

KENET in collaboration with RENU and INASP will be holding workshops for Librarians on Bandwidth Management and Optimisation (BMO) in Uganda and Kenya. Though the focus is on BMO, the workshops will also  foster communication between the  librarians and their NRENs. They will understand the basics of a campus network, the role of policy in BMO, the role of strategic management decisions in BMO, and the role libraries could play therein both at the institution and national level.  The workshops will run on July 11th in Uganda and on July 14th in Kenya. INASP is providing both technical and funding support for the workshops.  Martin Belcher of INASP plays a vital role in working with NRENs, Library Consortia and the Alliance on these capacity building issues.

KENET Leads NRENs in E-Readiness Survey of East Africa Universities

The Accession Project involves detailed e-readiness assessment, development of roadmaps for accession to higher state of e-readiness, dissemination of e-readiness results and roadmaps to Vice Chancellors and senior leadership of East African Universities. Ten selected Universities will undergo a revision and/or development of detailed ICT strategies. In addition, the project also has provision for partial funding for two innovative e-learning projects.

The Accession project is being received with great interest by Universities in East Africa.

 ISOC – African Interconnection

The Internet Society held its INET Africa Conference on 6 June 2008 in conjunction with the AfriNIC 7 and AfNOG 9 meetings in Rabat, Morocco. This year’s INET day theme is “African Interconnection – The value proposition”.  We are happy that UbuntuNet Alliance was invited to participate.  Our Director Albert Nsengiyumva represented the Alliance on this occasion.

As we are sometimes painfully aware, Africa has a complex linguistic heritage and French, English, Portuguese and Arabic are among the second languages of the first 6 members of  the Alliance!  Albert made two presentations to INET in French, one on the conference theme, and the other on what UbuntuNet was doing with the interconnection of member NRENs among each other and to the world.  The presentations led to vigourous discussion, especially among the Francophone participants.  His presentations can be retrieved at

http://www.isoc.org/isoc/conferences/inet/08/docs/inet2008_nsengiyumva.pdf  and http://www.isoc.org/isoc/conferences/inet/08/docs/inet2008_nsengiyumva_ren.pdf.

Sustainability of UbuntuNet Alliance – Membership Fees for 2008

It is important that as we become very much part of the academic connectivity landscape in the region, the Alliance moves toward sustainability.  Two means of achieving this were passed at the Second Council of Members Meeting in Lusaka during May: membership fees; and a fractional percentage of NREN bandwidth expenditure.  The Secretariat will, within the month, be sending invoices for 2008 accordingly to member NRENs.

Although we will rely on assistance from Partners for a considerable, time, it is important to show our commitment to our Association.

 

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