AfricaConnect’s Three Musketeers: All for One and One for All

Like Alexandre Dumas’ Three Musketeers, AfricaConnect’s trio of engineers – Joe Kimaili, Daniel Lete and Andrew Alston champion collaboration for the common good: all for one and one for all.

Echoing the spirit of Ubuntu, these three engineers are working together with single-minded purpose to overcome considerable technical challenges as well as collaborating with their counterparts at DANTE, the not-for-profit organisation coordinating AfricaConnect.  Together they define the engineering details of AfricaConnect and focus on meeting the goals of the project.

The three are (as seen in the picture, l-r), Joseph Kimaili, Trainee Technical Manager at the UbuntuNet Alliance, Daniel Lete, Technical Lead for DANTE on the AfricaConnect project and senior network engineer for HEAnet, and Andrew Alston, Network Development Manager for AfricaConnect at the UbuntuNet Alliance.

Here they take time out to tell us about their experiences on the project so far and their vision for its future:

What has your involvement been in this project?

D: I helped raise awareness among telecoms providers which hopefully has reflected in a greater pool of choices during the procurement phase.  The work we do prior to engaging in a formal public procurement process is of vital importance since a clear and feasible request usually receives clear and feasible responses.

J: I was involved in the design and development of the Research and Education Network for Uganda (RENU) network, as well as the Network for Makerere University. RENU is one of the beneficiary NRENs of the AfricaConnect project.

A: I’ve been involved in the UbuntuNet Alliance for a few years, when the first UbuntuNet PoP was established in London.  When the AfricaConnect project came into being, I took on the role of the Network Development Manager, and have been working closely with Daniel and Joe to try and get the tender documents right, and making sure that we will be able to deliver as best a service to the academic and research community in Africa as possible.

What are your personal highlights of the project so far?

A: Last week, sitting in Lusaka with ZAMREN assisting in the operationalisation of an African NREN, which is relying heavily on AfricaConnect becoming a reality, was a true highlight.  It was immensely gratifying to see the birth of another operational NREN, and the support from both inside the Zambian community as well as the external support reinforced my perception that NREN networks, and indeed a REN network like AfricaConnect promote a sense of community and bring people together with common goals and objectives.  This form of collaboration has a habit of spreading, and I look forward to seeing that happen.

D: Silly as it may sound, I am very fond of the group who has been working in the preparation of the AfricaConnect connectivity procurement. Being in that group has been very important to me.  I have also been lucky in that the organization I work for on a daily basis, HEAnet, has supported my involvement in the project.

What are the milestones you’ve helped achieve?

D:  Creating workable tender documentation, in time and with the consensus of the parties involved.

A: I was directly involved in the establishment of the first two UbuntuNet points of presence in Europe, in London and then in Amsterdam, and the turn-up of the first circuit between UbuntuNet and GÉANT.  I was also involved in the establishment of a GÉANTPlus circuit between the UbuntuNet Alliance and GÉANT in London.  The UbuntuNet Alliance network is now the most peered network on the African continent, boasting 480 autonomous system adjacencies, and a large portion of my time has been dedicated to negotiation all of this peering.

What are the main challenges you face in developing the AfricaConnect infrastructure?

D: How to reconcile expectations with reality. I think the common attribute in all those participating is that success is the only outcome we foresee, which is encouraging. On the other hand the project as such comes with its own expiry date of four years.   I believe the main difficulty during that time will be to build a sustainable technical infrastructure.  Financial matters aside, I believe that will happen working in conjunction with the NRENs and certainly with the providers.

J:  I’ve been involved in AfricaConnect for just a month and a half, however, based on my experience at RENU, the main challenge in this part of the world is the cost of Internet links. Despite the region being served by three submarine cables now (OK, I agree these are still few), the costs remain quite high.

A: Firstly, there is a perception that infrastructure doesn’t necessarily exist in Africa to provide the kinds of high speed bandwidth we are looking for.  This perception isn’t necessarily accurate, but it does give the providers the excuse to overcharge for what infrastructure they have.  Prices are sometimes disproportionate to the value being offered.  I am hopeful though that this will not be the case in the responses we see coming back on the AfricaConnect tenders.  The other major challenge are the number of countries that have strict regulations and large incumbent players, who tend to still act like monopolies and charge monopolistic type pricing, as it is often a challenge to get such companies to negotiate in an open and fair manner.

What’s your vision for the AfricaConnect project? How will it look in 3-4 years?

D: Hopefully the initial structure of the network serves as foundation, solid enough to be able to grow both in extension and capacity. In terms of technology the project will have to work with whatever is available and feasible. Key to the work would be to develop a plan for the foreseeable future, this may take the form of working towards securing infrastructure not necessarily only from commercial providers, but also connecting to Asia and incorporating West Africa. Technology seems to be changing extremely fast in the region and hopefully this demand will make choice a reality.

J: Something like GÉANT!

A: Difficult to predict, but I would like to see each country connected with a minimum of a cross border gigabit circuit into each of their neighbouring countries.  I believe this is possible, though it will require work both on behalf of the Alliance and its members, as the basis for this vision are strong, functional and self-sustainable national research networks in each of the participating countries.  I also believe that in 3 to 4 years, we will have had the time to build a much stronger technical skills base within the community, which will enable further collaboration and innovation within the NREN networks.

About Andrew Alston

Andrew Alston has worked in IT for more than twenty years, starting at age 12 when he took his first part time job at a small computer store assembling PC’s. He has since worked in UNIX system administration, security consulting and auditing and academic networking. For the past six years he has worked as CTO of South Africa’s national research and education network, TENET, where he has led the development of high-speed connectivity and advanced networking services. Andrew is passionate about the African continent, and one of his favorite sayings is “born under African skies, bred under African skies, will die under African skies!” He has a liking for fast cars, fine cigars and a good argument!

About Joe Kimaili

Mr. Joe Kimaili joined UbuntuNet Alliance in August 2011.  Mr Kimaili, a data communication Engineer by profession, has a wealth of experience in Data Network design, implementation and management.  Mr Kimaili has been involved in the development of the Research and Education Network for Uganda (RENU) and Makerere University networks. He was also part the in the team that produced the preliminary design of the Uganda National Backbone, currently under implementation.
Information about the AfricaConnect Project is available at www.africaconnect.eu

The UbuntuNet Alliance network starts to take shape

The network, known as UbuntuNet, to interconnect Research and Education Networks in Southern and Eastern Africa, and between them and the rest of the world started to take shape with the issuance of the AfricaConnect connectivity tender dossier on 7th October 2011. AfricaConnect is the name of the project implementing this network, and DANTE, which manages the pan-European REN GÉANT, is the organisation contracted by EU to carry out and coordinate the tender activities in collaboration with the UbuntuNet Alliance and its member NRENs as well as selected European NRENs.

The tender seeks offers for international point-to-point connectivity services between as many of the UbuntuNet Alliance member POPs as possible and to connect the resulting network to the GÉANT network. AfricaConnect will seek the highest capacity at the best price within the limitations of the overall project budget, both for the regional connections and the connection to the UbuntuNet POPs in Europe (London and Amsterdam).

The connectivity tender will be closely followed by a similar one for the equipment required to set up the points of presence.

It is anticipated that evaluations, leading to the first round of negotiations, will have been completed by the third week of November. The overall target is to start operations of the new segments of UbuntuNet set up under AfricaConnect by the end of April 2011.  Yes, We Can!

UbuntuNet-Connect 2011 preparations in full swing

After a very successful hosting of IGF (Internet Governance Forum), Nairobi is featuring yet another big conference for the research and education community.  So, it is all systems go for Safari Park Hotel, Nairobi as preparations are at the peak for UbuntuNet-Connect 2011 from the 23rd to the 25th of November 2011 with the theme is Access for Success. A 300% increase in the number of papers submitted for UbuntuNet-Connect 2011 demonstrates the maturing of the event, (now in its 4th year) and has kept a team of distinguished reviewers busy!  But their work is done and those whose papers are accepted are busy preparing the final versions of their papers for presentation on four thematic tracks.  The provisional conference programme is posted atwww.ubuntunet.net/uc2011_programme

The KENET technical team are finalizing logistics and working with those flagship companies that offered sponsorship to ensure that this funding maximizes both participation and quality of the event.  The conference also features touristic opportunities for those interested (see http://www.ubuntunet.net/uc2011_extra_events).

A rich mix of pre-conference events is on schedule, organized by UbuntuNet Alliance, KENET, the AfricaConnect Project and the CHAIN Project.  The Conference website indicates which events are open and which ones are by invitation.

So now is the time to make your plans and register to participate! http://www.ubuntunet.net/uc2011_register . See you in Nairobi!

KENET to hold ICT Directors Forum

Kenya Education Network (KENET) is hosting the UbuntuNet-Connect 2011, an event which will be held at Safari Park Hotel in Nairobi, the hub of East Africa’s tourism Mecca. The theme for the conference is Access to Success. On the list of pre-conference events is the ICT Directors’ Forum as which will be held on the morning of Wednesday, 23 November 2011in order to take advantage of the pool of experts in different areas of university ICT operations and management.

Apart from the international experts, KENET invites proposals from ICT Directors in different theme areas of ICT leadership, ICT financing and budgeting, deployment of new web-based services, University ERPs, and security of networks among others.

KENET shall pay for one day accommodation to allow heads of ICT to attend the Forum as well travel for those outside the 40 Km radius of Nairobi. A cocktail has been included to increase networking among ICT directors. Those ICT Directors who want to attend the main conference, UbuntuNet-Connect, will need to pay a separate registration fee ($150) that covers all day meals (seewww.ubuntunet.net for details). The conference includes exhibition by the private sector ICT companies and any three universities that commit to sponsor the conference (see www.kenet.or.ke).

For more information about the forum you can send your inquiries on e-mail

CHAIN e-Infrastructures Workshop at UbuntuNet-Connect 2011 presents a unique opportunity

The afternoon of 23 November 2011 at Safari Park Hotel in Nairobi is the place to be for those interested in e-Infrastructure applications. The CHAIN project is organizing a half day Workshop on Research Applications and e-Infrastructures as a pre-conference event at UbuntuNet-Connect 2011. Within the project, UbuntuNet Alliance is responsible for the organization of high level awareness raising events.  This will be the first for the Alliance, and is free and open to all. It is expected that both the Research community and those giving leadership in NREN infrastructure development will come together to identify applications, share expertise and develop solutions and map a forward direction. It is hoped that serious networking will take place (http://www.ubuntunet.net/uc2011_preconference_events.

Please indicate on the conference registration form that you will attend the preconference workshop.  Members of the CHAIN consortium will converge from across the globe to meet with other participants.

CHAIN is an EU FP7 project implemented by a consortium of 8 partners co-ordinated by INFN of Italy. UbuntuNet Alliance is the African partner. The project aims to coordinate e-Infrastructure activities in all regions of the world with a purpose of harmonising their interfaces, specifically grid computing between Europe and the rest of the world (www.chain-project.eu).

NHLS joins the TENET Network

The joining of an NREN by new institutions is a sign of recognition of service provided and of progress. TENET is happy to report that the National Health Laboratory Services (NHLS) through TENET has signed the Research and Education Network (REN) Service agreement which will enable them to be enjoyg Internet services at an affordable rate and fast speed.

NHLS is the largest diagnostic pathology service in South Africa with the responsibility of supporting the national and provincial health departments in the delivery of healthcare. The NHLS provides laboratory and related services to over 80% of the population through a national network of laboratories.

NHLS is sourcing their own connectivity to gain access to the SANReN backbone through their nearest node. This is especially beneficial for long distances. NHLS will be able to use the SANReN capacity systematically in connecting all of their laboratories across South Africa to their data- canters in Johannesburg.

NHLS will retain the responsibility for providing the connection to SANReN points of presence. The addition of NHLS brings the number of sites that TENET services up to 53 institutions with an approximate number of 120 campuses amongst these.  NHLS will also enjoy access to international Internet access via TENET.

For more information, visit http://www.tenet.ac.za/ 

New Board for TENET

TENET recently appointed its new Board in the month of July 2011. The Annual General Meeting (AGM) held in Johannesburg for the nominations and elections of the Directors and Board members took on a new approach this year. This AGM was held in terms of the recently adopted Articles of Associations. The directorships previously held a 1 year term whereas now Directorship appointments normally last a 3 year period. The newly appointed directors have been appointed for different terms, ranging from 1year, 2years and some 3years. This approach is to ensure both continuity and the regular election of new directors. There are 5 new Directors and 8 continuing members. Dr Tusubira (the CEO for UbuntuNet Alliance) continues to serve on the TENET Board.

EU and ASEM to finance high-speed internet

Building on the success of the Trans-Eurasia Information Network 2 (TEIN2) research and education network the European Union (EU) and its partners has announced the launch date of its successor TEIN3. The TEIN3 network is funded by the EU with €12 million and an additional €6 million from Asian partners and this project will enable continued EU-Asia cooperation, directly benefiting researchers and the wider population. In comparison to its predecessor TEIN2, it will operate at a higher speed and across additional Asian countries.

The TEIN2 network has been a major ASEM success story. It currently connects 30 million users in 4,000 research and education institutions across 10 Asian countries with each other and their peers in Europe, via links to the high speed GÉANT2 network.

For more information, visit http://ec.europa.eu/europeaid/where/asia/regional-cooperation/infrastruc…

Internet Governance Forum in Kenya… and KENET CEO poses a question!

The Sixth Annual IGF Meeting was held in Nairobi, Kenya on 27-30 September 2011 under the theme: Internet as a catalyst for change: access, development, freedoms and innovation. http://www.intgovforum.org/ .The EU Commissioner Digital Agenda, Neelie Kroes attended the meeting.  Her blog expresses her excitement at the energy and creativity of the young people of Kenya http://blogs.ec.europa.eu/neelie-kroes/how-ict-helps-developing-countrie…

KENET… gave a good example to other NRENs with its active involvement in IGF side events.  Professor Meoli Kashorda, CEO of KENET had this to say:

“This morning open public lecture for university students went well. We had about 400 students at KICC. The panelists were Prof. Vint Cerf, Jeff Bergamann, VP for Public Policy at AT & T, an IDRC senior program officer, and our PS for Communications. It was very inspiring and interactive. Vint Cerf also visited iHub yesterday afternoon. They are all very impressed by the Kenyan youth.

It seems NRENs have yet another role – to support student innovations and collaborations and to organise public lecturers and competitions? This was our first student activity that we have ever organised.”

We congratulate KENET on getting such giant achievers to talk with the students.  What do other NRENs feel as they struggle to get a working network and deliver connectivity? Can both the physical network and the people network be tackled at the same time?  Or is the linear approach, one thing at a time, preferred?  Please send us your thoughts on this challenge.

 

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