End of Year Message from the Chairperson of UbuntuNet Alliance, Professor Zimani D Kadzamira

Year 2009 has been one of hard work and progress for the Alliance, culminating in the admission of SomaliREN as the 11th member! It is time for members of the Alliance Secretariat to take a short year end break. I would like to thank all NUANCE readers for your company and support throughout the year. We have seen new opportunities arising with the coming of undersea cables on the East African Coast. As 2010 approaches, our expectations are high with the excitement of Africa-Connect implementation in the New Year. For those who celebrate Christmas, I would like to wish you a Merry Christmas, and peace and goodwill to all!

Contributing to the design of the Africa-Connect Network at UbuntuNet-Connect 2009

RENU had arranged some wonderful entertainment at UbuntuNet-Connect 2009 and few will forget the dancing ladies with innumerable pots on their heads! But prior to the relaxation, every available moment was seized for serious work and thinking. The photo shows Bruce Zamaere of MAREN, Albert Nsengiyumva, UbuntuNet Vice Chair and Coordinator of RwEdNet, Cathrin Stover. Head of International Relations of DANTE, Mike Nowlan of FEAST/DANTE and Duncan Martin, UbuntuNet Board Member and CEO of TENET doing some deep thinking on the design and interconnection of the Africa-Connect network. This is work in progress and there will be a great deal more such thinking required.

Government support to research and education networking: Some African governments wake up while others slumber

A vibrant advanced research and education environment is now recognised a sine qua non for sustainable national development.  A survey of the region shows that while some African governments have woken up to this fact, others continue in state of slumber, consigning their countries to perpetual marginalisation.  In this article, we highlight Kenya, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda (more countries will be covered in the next issue).

Not surprisingly, it is the regional economic power houses, Kenya and South Africa, where there is greatest support for research and education networking from governments.

Kenya

A Leland Initiative grant to government in the late nineties was channelled to enable KENET and was used to connect 22 strategic institutions through Jambonet.  TKL, a full-owned government corporation agreed to provide KENET members Internet institutions with bandwidth at 50% the price charged to commercial operators.   In 2002, the Communications Commission of Kenya granted KENET a 5-year private operator license which has now been converted to a 15-year Alternative Networks Facility Provider.  This means that they can purchase international bandwidth directly; and create fibre networks.  All radio licences used in the network are free of license fees:  They therefore do not pay license fees for VSAT equipment and KENET-owned radio links.  In addition to this, CCK contributed about $60,000) per year for four years to KENET as core institutional support.

In 2007, the Kenya Government gave universities and related institutions USD19 million (secured by government as a loan from the World Bank) for expansion of Internet services (satellite bandwidth subsidy and local connectivity support, setting up a network operations centre – NOC,  setting up 7 regional PoPs, and purchase of IRUs).  The government has also waived tax and duties on PoP and NOC equipment.   More recently, Government has donated an STM4 (620Mbps) IRU to KENET on the TEAMS cable.

South Africa

South Africa’s research and education network, TENET started as a grassroots organisation, fully owned by the universities.  They benefited from significant development partner support in the beginning to enable their operations, but they are now fully self-sustaining.  Entirely supported by member payments and payment guarantees, TENET was able to secure the necessary funding to buy and operationalise a 10Gbps IRU on SEACOM from Mtunzini to London.

During 2006, the South African Government set up the South African National Research and Education Network (SANReN) as a project under the Department of  Science and Technology.  SANReN forms part of a “comprehensive South African Government approach to cyber infrastructure to ensure successful participation of South African researchers in the global knowledge production effort. Together with the Centre for High Performance Computing (CHPC) and other initiatives SANReN forms a key component of this cyberinfrastructure as a core scientific infrastructure for South Africa.”

There was understandable consternation in TENET about the apparent contradiction of starting another NREN, but the challenge has to a large extent been addressed through an evolving separation of roles and creation of synergy: SANReN rolls out the backbone and TENET operates it; SANReN provides the internal highway and TENET provides the connection to the international highways.  As we go to press, we have learnt that the main backbone (see figure) is complete, providing South African universities and institutions already connected access to dedicated 10Gbps internal and external connectivity.  A lot of work remains to be done to achieve the last mile connections to the majority of the universities, but the establishment of the 10Gbps dedicated national and international connectivity is a landmark for research and education networking in Africa.

The SANReN Backbone: DBN=Durban; JHB=Johannesburg; PE=Port Elizabeth; CPT=Cape Town; BFN=Bloemfontein; PTA=Pretoria

Tanzania

The picture in Tanzania is not very clear: on the one hand, government says TERNET, the national research and education network, is free to operate and indeed does not require any licences.  On the other, there is resistance to some of their initiatives, and no tangible assistance of any kind has been extended TERNET.  While this ambivalent state of limbo continues, the country continues to fall behind.
There is recent news that the World Bank has committed major funding to Tanzania to support the roll-out of ICT services and systems, with an expectation that part of this might go to research and education networking: we shall keep our readers updated.

Sudan

In Sudan, the NREN SUIN was started top-down, and has been receiving financial support covering all its operations from both the Ministry of Higher Education and the Regulator since 2004.  In 2008, there was a written decision from the regulator to fund the construction and running cost of fibre connectivity for 50 points in the SUIN network (30 public universities, 10 private not-for-profit universities, and 10 research centres of the  Ministry of Science and Technology).  15 institutions had been so connected by October 2009.  Government  continues to support SUIN in all its operations and has also given it a level of independence with control by the Vice-Chancellors.

Uganda

RENU started as a grass-root organisation like TENET of South Africa.  It has received a lot of verbal support from government, including a promise of a dark fibre pair on the National Data Backbone.  There is every indication that government will live up to this promise, with  likely modification to refer to 10Gbps paths rather than a fibre pair that would be a lot more capacity than needed.  RENU is now recognised by the Ministry of Education and Sports as the national research and education network.  They however still face the challenge of funding: Government has to wake up to the reality that without the kind of support that KENET in Kenya has secured, Uganda will continue being marginalised.

Not All Work at UbuntuNet-Connect 2009

The Alliance recognises that research and education networking is both about human networks and infrastructure networks.  While day time was for the formal activities, UbuntuNet-Connect brought a lot of opportunities for human networking to the participants.  The following pictures say it all…

Ndere Troupe performs at the cultural gala..
Guests try out their steps

A very energetic evening!

It takes skill and balance!

One needs a good meal after all that work…

Isabel System Links Remote participants with limited bandwidth to Johannesburg conferences

The Isabel video conferencing system scored another landmark by liking in about 10 Africa based locations to the joint Centre for High Performance Computing National Meeting and the 5th BELIEF Symposium that took place at Sandton Convention Center in Johannesburg, South Africa, 7-9th December 2009.  As far as we can establish, this was a first for an Africa based event.

At the local event in Johannesburg there were over 200 participants attending the 2 day conference, and GLOBAL facilitated participation of about ten remote sites in Africa and Europe. Kostas Glinos of the EC and Prof Peter Kirstein of UCL were able to make presentations remotely from London and Brussels on 7th and 8th December respectively.

The Conference discussed high performance computing and applications. Of special note was the presentation by Cynthia McIntyre of Council on Competitiveness (US) who gave a presentation entitled “High performance computing: industrial research & development to production”. She gave practical examples of how high performance computing is used in the USA, citing how Goodyear leveraged it to design and launch the Assurance® all-weather tyre, a hit that helped them not only improve their competitive position, but helped them launch a flurry of new tires that resulted in record profits.

South Africa is at an advanced stage in using high performance computing and the Department of Science and Technology is funding the initiative and it is being managed by the Centre for Scientific and Industrial Research, CSIR.

CLARA – opportunities for partnership and shared learning

As we approach the implementation of the EU Africa-Connect Project, we become more aware of the learning curve that our CLARA colleagues in Latin America have gone through and the possibility of learning from them – and of course they also will appreciate gaining from what we learn on our journey!
A few weeks ago Cathrin Stover of DANTE, who has played a critical role in the building of the CLARA network and is also working closely with the Alliance as we approach Africa-Connect, put us in touch with María José López Pourailly, the PR & Communications Manager for CLARA who produces their e-Bulletin, DeCLARA.  A glance at DeCLARA (http://www.redclara.net/doc/DeCLARA/DeCLARA_en_19) shows that they have been following events in our region with interest and are aware of our progress within the Alliance. Maria asks to be kept abreast of our developments so that she can feature them to CLARA members in their Bulletin and we hope also to keep our members in touch with what is happening in CLARA on a regular basis.

A quote from Issue 19 of DeCLARA, “the more than 700 universities and research centres across Latin America which are connected and communicate through CLARA and their member national networks: a key asset and our network’s best presentation card. It is not only the quantity, which in itself is a relevant data, but also the diversity of disciplines, experiences, environments and skills found throughout the network. By enabling their interaction in an efficient and effective way, RedCLARA exponentially increases the impact of their activities on our population’s welfare. The doors to other world research centres have been left open through the many interactions regularly developed and the joint research projects which take place in the different disciplines, thus widening the scope of Latin American e-Science.” This inspires UbuntuNet to look forward to the time in the not- too- distant future when our preoccupation will be beyond connectivity but research collaboration and output.

Both UbuntuNet Alliance and CLARA are partners in the EU FP7 GLOBAL Project Consortium and enjoy the collaboration. Also, UbuntuNet Alliance has interacted with Latin America on Grid Computing activities in the EU FP7 EELA Project. We look forward to the time when the UbuntuNet network facilitates more scientific and learning collaboration within our region and with the REN community in Europe, in Latin America and beyond.

GEANT3 Launch: Third generation of GÉANT to pioneer the Future Internet

The Swedish Presidency of the EU culminated in the launch of GEANT3 in wintery Stockholm on 1st December 2009. With Africa-Connect coming on in the near future, it was appropriate that UbuntuNet Alliance was represented at the launch in the person of the Vice Chairperson, Albert Nsengiyumva who is also the Coordinator for RwEdNet, the Rwanda NREN.

The event is described as follows on the EC website: The new generation of GÉANT, the super fast pan-European research internet, has been officially unveiled today. 40 million researchers and students across Europe, who use GÉANT today, will be able to better tackle the new science challenges thanks to networking innovation and advanced user services. From 2012 researchers from all over the world will enjoy connection speeds of up to 100 Gigabits per second, ten times higher than today. Faster speeds will, for example help scientists to work better together and also enable them to process massive amounts of data that come from projects like CERN’s Large Hadron Collider or giant telescopes scanning the skies for information about our galaxies. GEANT 3 is receiving €93 million in funding from the EU’s 7th Framework Programme and a similar amount from Europe’s National Research and Education Networks (NRENs), and will run until 2012. (http://ec.europa.eu/information_society/newsroom).

GÉANT is a “network of networks” which offers reliable, seamless and transparent connectivity and supports services for users to create the most advanced international research network in the world. The GÉANT 3 project is developing a portfolio of advanced services like bandwidth on-demand for specific project requirements. This means that, for example, astronomers exploring the universe can combine data gathered from radio telescopes over GÉANT with a special “on demand” connection rather than needing a specific, “always on” data transmission line allowing an optimized usage of the resource.

Current awareness: New publication from SARUA

Many NUANCE readers will be aware of the comprehensive research monitoring series of studies being produced by SARUA, the Southern African Regional Universities Association. On recent publication that has been received at the Secretariat is “Towards a Common Future: Higher Education in the SADC Region: Research Findings from Four SARUA Studies, edited by Piyushi Kotecha (2008).

This publication contains, for the first time, significant information about the profile and state of higher education in Southern Africa and provides pointers to areas that require support for its future development. SARUA presents this to interested readers in Southern Africa and beyond in the hope that it will contribute to the strengthening of the higher education sector in SADC countries and foster their closer alignment with national and regional development goals and priorities.

This body of work represents a first baseline attempt by SARUA to enable members and government leaders to take forward a series of vital conversations. The following are the chapters:

  • Revitalising Higher Education in the SADC Region
  • A Profile of Higher Education in the Region
  • Higher Education Funding Frameworks in SADC
  • The State of Public Science in the SADC Region
  • Analysing University-Firm Interaction in the SADC Countrie

Chapter 4: “The state of Public Science in SADC” is of particular interest to UbuntuNet Alliance, giving bibliometric information on sources of collaborating research partners for member institutions and giving quantifiable information on the lack of intra- regional collaboration which may be an area that the implementation of the UbuntuNet network and Africa Connect will address.
The full document is available on the SARUA website from where these details are taken: http://www.sarua.org/

Deepest Sympathies to SomaliREN

The CEO, on behalf of UbuntuNet Alliance, join SomaliREN in expressing the deep sorrow of members of UbuntuNet at this tragic loss of young lives and says “Our hearts go out to the familes, friends and Universities.” A press statement from SomaliREN isavailable here.

Dates set for COM 2010: FRENIA to support NREN Participation

NRENs that are paid up members of the Alliance will receive support from the programme “Fostering Research and Education Networking in Africa (FRENIA)” that is managed by TENET to send their representative and their CEO to the COM and, where it applies, related meetings to be hosted by RwEdNet in Kigali.  The programme is as follows:

Thursday 22nd April 8.30 – 9.30am:        Meeting of the Executive Committee
Thursday 22nd April 10am – 2.30pm:    Meeting of the CEOs (with lunch break)
Thursday 22nd April 3pm – 5pm:        Meeting of Board
Friday 23rd April 8.30am – 1pm:        RwEdNet Workshop
Friday 23rd April 2pm – 4pm:            Meeting of COM

Qualified NRENs will be guided in applying directly to FRENIA for support that will specifically cover full board, air-tickets, and transfer charges in Kigali.  NRENs are expected to cover per diem, visa, and transfer costs within their countries.

After the World Cup, UbuntuNet-Connect 2010 set South Africa

The NREN Community who want to avoid the mad rush of the World Cup will still get opportunity to enjoy South Africa during 2010: TENET, the South Africa research and education network, will host UbuntuNet-Connect 2010 the second week of November 2010 in Johannesburg. Please block this week and look out for the call for papers in the January 2010 NUANCE.

 

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