Consolidating Research and Education Networking in Africa (CORENA) – Where are we?

By Tusu

The acronym CORENA was coined to capture the dreams of the UbuntuNet Alliance in a single symbolic word:  the removal of digital and consequent intellectual isolation of researchers based in Africa.  It must be remembered that the backdrop for the formation of the Alliance in 2005 was the criminal reality that universities and research institutions in Africa were paying close to $10,000 per month for bandwidth that would cost $20 per month in the richer, more technologically developed countries.  We want to achieve not just equity, but equality to the rest of the world in terms of volume and cost of bandwidth.

The International Development Centre (IDRC) of Canada bought into the African dream, putting faith in the pioneering individuals whose dedication to success exceeds any obstacle, and funding two phases of CORENA.  CORENA focuses on the provision of research and education intra-African and global connectivity at bandwidths and costs that are comparable to the rest of the world.  Attendant to this is the establishment of an environment in which this access is sustainable:  robust national and regional research and education networks; competent human capacity; conducive policy and regulatory environments; and content networks as well as applications that bring value to the data networks.

The first step was the development of a comprehensive knowledge base about the Research and Education Networking (REN) environment within the region, capturing status, opportunities, and the challenges; and also using these to develop a more comprehensive strategy that included the Policy and Master Plan.  While we do not use any weapon that makes noise (our voices excluded!), we recognize the reality that the Alliance is at war – at war with an environment that has created the intellectual isolation of Africa.  This first step of knowing our enemy and knowing ourselves was therefore essential, if one puts faith in the writings of Sun Tsu.

The second major step was the implementation of our Policy and Master Plan.  We are however realists: we know that we could base actions on fallacious assumptions, or, with the correct assumptions, make the wrong strategic or tactical choices.  Integral with our implementation, we therefore have a comprehensive ongoing monitoring and evaluation strategy that looks at both the output and outcome levels.

What has been achieved through CORENA to date?

The number of NRENs has gone from the initial handful to thirteen active members and five NRENs in formation. We are however not just about membership, but also have an operational network reaching into Europe (hubs in London LINX and Amsterdam AMSIX). The London Hub connects to GEANT at 20Gbps, and GÉANT provides up to 5Gbps transit to other regional RENs around the world.  Our network is providing light path throughput on demand for the Hartebeesthoek Radio-Astronomy Observatory, South Africa to JIVE, the e-VLBI data processing centre at Zwingeloo, the Netherlands .  The UbuntuNet Alliance network is also now the most peered network on the African continent, boasting 480 autonomous system adjacencies. Now, all this might not sound much to those with advanced networks, but we know where we are coming from.  Besides, Chinua Achebe’s Ironsi the lizard has taught us a thing or two!

The Alliance provides interconnection services to member NRENs in eastern and southern Africa; Intercontinental connectivity services; and Rest-of-World gateway services, providing Internet interconnectivity in both directions to GÉANT and through that to the global research and education networks worldwide, and also connectivity to the commodity Internet worldwide.  Through these services, the Alliance is moving to financial sustainability by the end of 2013 as planned.  The figure below clearly illustrates this:

Our major feather in the cap arising out of preparedness due to CORENA was the finding through a formal feasibility study (FEAST) that within Africa, it was the Alliance membership region that was ready to benefit from the EU funded AfricaConnect Project.  This €14.8 million 4-year project will build especially the regional (within Africa) segment of UbuntuNet and also reinforce the capacity to the rest of the world.  The EU funds 80%, and the African partners 20% (see www.africaconnect.eu).
We know that without engaging the content communities, the value of UbuntuNet will not be realized.

The Alliance has therefore been active in identifying and working with regional content networks, and also participating in various research projects under the European Union 7th Framework Programme (EU FP7). The projects have enabled the Alliance to interact with other international projects and to start stimulating the development of communities that will use the regional network. EUFP7 projects include ERINA4Africa (www.erina4africa.eu) and GLOBAL (www.global-project.eu) projects (both concluded); the ongoing CHAIN: Coordination and Harmonisation of Advanced e-Infrastructures (www.chain-project.eu); and upcoming CHAIN-REDS (which will be the second phase of CHAIN).

The Alliance has especially achieved global recognition for what it is – a key driving force in the development of research and education networking in Africa, owned and led by Africans. The Alliance is working collaboratively with the other newer regional networks, the West and Central African Research and Education Network (WACREN) and the Arab States Research and Education Network (ASREN) towards a business like operation that will be the continental REN.   The increased awareness about the benefits of research and education networking driven by the Alliance at the regional level and by the Association of African Universities at the continental level has been a contributing factor to the acceptance of discount rates for research and education networks by the major cable providers, leading to an increase in international connectivity for NRENs from less than 800Mbps in 2005/6 to about 14Gbps now, and at prices that are now typically below $500 per full duplex Mbps per month;  and the stimulation of internal and external funding for research and education networking in Africa through creating higher international visibility of the challenges.

Is the current and even higher planned investment worth it? As part of our research into the impact of connectivity on intellectual property output, we have published a preliminary paper that reveals some interesting factors and trends, even as we recognize that it is too early in our research to make definitive conclusions (sites/default/files/the_impact.pdf).

Our CORENA strategy has reached mid-term, and will take another major step with AfricaConnect funding.  We know we shall achieve success because, deep down, we really have no choice about that.

Mesh Potato

By Steve Song

Communications infrastructure has exploded in the last 15 years. In the industrialised world, the Internet is fundamentally re-shaping both social and economic norms. In the developing world, mobile technology has put communication in the hands of the poor thereby enabling social and economic participation for those previously excluded.

But communication technology has not reached everyone. Mobile business models are not well designed for sparsely populated rural areas and mobile costs still remain comparatively high for low income earners.

For those with access, the value of being connected steadily increases as more and more services become available. The unfortunate flipside to this is that those without access become increasingly marginalised.

Village Telco provides an alternative option for the unconnected. By using low-cost WiFi technology which typically doesn’t require a license for operation, Village Telco has developed a device, called Mesh Potato, which puts the power to create a voice and data network anywhere. Mesh Potatoes automatically link to each other wirelessly and form a cloud of connectivity anywhere. Better still, you can plug an ordinary phone into a Mesh Potato and start making local calls to other Mesh Potato owners at no charge.

Connect one Mesh Potato to an upstream Internet connection and everyone in the Mesh Potato network can also access the Internet. Designed for years of rugged use in the outdoors, the Mesh Potato consumes only 3 watts and can thus be powered by low-cost solar solutions in areas where power is either unavailable or unreliable.

Best of all, the Mesh Potato is completely Open Source and based on open standards so it can easily be integrated with other wireless Internet services and equipment. To find out more see http://villagetelco.org or better still, join the Village Telco community at https://groups.google.com/forum/#!forum/village-telco-dev

Reminder: Call for papers UbuntuNet-Connect 2012

UbuntuNet Alliance is calling for abstracts of papers to be presented at the UbuntuNet-Connect 2012 Conference. The Conference will be held at Kunduchi Hotel in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania on 14-16th November 2012. The theme of the conference is UbuntuNet – Promoting Regional Research and Education Collaboration, and the papers should fall under (but not limited to) the following sub-themes:
•    Collaboration in scientific areas
•    Collaborations in arts and culture
•    E-learning
•    Resource-sharing
•    Collaborative approaches to capacity building
•    Approaches and Opportunities for research and education data networks

Authors are invited to submit a 500 word abstract with up to 5 keywords, of their proposed papers, clearly indicating the key message to be shared, not later than 31st August2012. Papers collaboratively authored are especially welcome.  Papers may describe completed research, or relevant case studies or projects; they should not normally describe planned research.  Abstracts should be sent to: info@ubuntunet.net. Abstracts will be double blind peer reviewed. For further details, visitwww.ubuntunet.net/uc_2012.

UbuntuNet Alliance will avail a limited number of travel fellowships for authors from least developed countries within Africa.

Early-bird opportunity to reVAMP Virtual Organisations

Register now for an early bird discount on registration for the VO Architectural Middleware Planning (VAMP) workshop that will take place in Utrecht, Netherlands, on 6-7 September 2012, whose goal is to foster the deployment of identity management and collaboration tools within the research community, is calling upon all interested researchers and institutions to register for its upcoming event with a discount which will be available until midnight on 2 August 2012.

VAMP will discuss the challenges and opportunities surrounding international research groups, also known as Virtual Organisations (VOs), in the research, education and scientific communities. It will bring together VOs and international federation operators to define effective ways for VOs to use inter-federation infrastructure(s) and to share and discuss case studies, best practices, requirements and design inputs for the VOs of the future.

The VAMP workshop welcomes wide participation from among international research groups, including social science and humanities research groups as well as large science and engineering collaborations. IT architects from campuses and national research and education network (NREN) organisations who are engaged in supporting the identity management needs of the research and education community are invited to join. Representatives of funding agencies that support VOs and scientific research are also invited to participate.

TERENA is co-organising the VAMP workshop with Internet2 and SURFnet, which is also providing sponsorship. More information, including details about registration and accommodation can be found at http://www.terena.org/activities/vamp/ws1/.

Source: http://www.terena.org/news/fullstory.php?news_id=3191

Are you into E-books?  Now is the time.

By Margaret Ngwira

E-books are becoming a part of our daily lives. This is a format that brings its own set of advantages and is not “goodbye” to the paper book, but a rich alternative!  My first e-book read was “The Boy who harnessed the wind” which, amazingly, is not available in paper format in the country from which William Kamkwamba comes, Malawi!  Given the role of a traditional library in William’s development of a windmill, it was a fascinating experience to get access to it by chance on my newly purchased Amazon Kindle e-book reader.

As a former Librarian and new owner of the  e-book reader, I am excited by the potential of the medium, especially in the context of our network development where the access challenge is being overcome by the implementation of the AfricaConnect project and the increase in the number of our member NRENs peering at the UbuntuNet interconnection point in London.  Also as a human being, saving a few trees for the grandchildren is also an important consideration!

For NUANCE readers, I just identified what I believe is an extremely useful free e-book from the EDUCAUSE website (thanks to the link from the KENET website).This is approximately a 22mb download, which would have overwhelmed us a few years ago, but now, the download  is relatively stress-free:

Game Changers: Education and Information technology, edited by Diana G Oblinger.
Game Changers is a rich resource of chapters and case studies on e-learning and its context. The blurb says
”New models and new technologies allow us to rethink many of the premises of education – location and time, credits and credentials, knowledge creation and sharing”

With 17 chapters and 21 case studies, there is something for all of us who are involved in e-learning from the conceptual to the infrastructural to the content and utilization level.  It is based largely on American experience with a fair peppering of international examples.  I especially enjoyed Case Study 19 “CS50 at Harvard: “The Most Rewarding Class I Have TakenEver “
This case study describes the huge innovative input by the course leader, Professor Malan and the resulting transformation of the introductory course in Computer Science at Harvard College into a dynamic, challenging, demanding and entertaining course where enrollment soared and student satisfaction and attainment was palpable.

The website says “EDUCAUSE is a nonprofit association and the foremost community of IT leaders and professionals committed to advancing higher education. EDUCAUSE programs and services are focused on analysis, advocacy, and community building, professional development and knowledge creation because IT plays a transformative role in higher education. EDUCAUSE supports those who lead, manage, and use information technology through a comprehensive range of resources and activities.”

Game Changers comes as a pdf file that does not require an e-book reader.  It is published under a Creative Commons 3.0 License and is available for download at educause.edu/books.  Enjoy

Sonification enables world to hear new Higgs Boson-like particle

Discovery now music to everybody’s ears

Through a combination of high speed research networks, advanced sonification techniques and grid computing the world can now ‘hear’ the newly discovered Higgs Boson-like particle.

Research networks, including the pan-European GÉANT network, were critical components in the global infrastructure that helped find the new particle, delivering immense volumes of experimental data from the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) to thousands of scientists around the world for analysis and then providing the connectivity for them to share their results amongst the entire research community.

On Wednesday 4th July 2012, scientists at CERN announced that they had found a Higgs-like particle after analysing results from the Large Hadron Collider. Researchers detected a “bump” in their data corresponding to a particle weighing in at 126 gigaelectronvolts (GeV), consistent with the Higgs Boson, which is believed to give mass to all other particles. This consequently proves the Standard Model, which is the dominant theory of how the universe works at the subatomic level.
Building on this achievement, the same research networks have now been a central part of turning these scientific findings into music using data sonification. Working from results supplied by the Atlas experiment at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), researchers have created melodies that make the results easier to understand.

Sonification requires enormous amounts of networking and processing power toproduceresults. Creating the Higgs melody consequently relied on high-speed research networks including the pan-European GÉANT network, which operates at speed of up to 10Gbps and the EGI grid computing infrastructure. Grid computing works by linking together multiple computers in different locations via high speed networks, combining their processing power to deliver faster results when analysing enormous volumes of data.

The project was coordinated by DomenicoVicinanza of DANTE (the UK-based organisation that operates the GÉANT network on behalf of European national research and education networks (NRENs)), in collaboration with MariapaolaSorrentino of ASTRA Project, Cambridge, who contributed to the sonification process and Giuseppe La Rocca from INFN Catania, responsible for the computing framework.

In the music the peak of high notes in the second bar is the appearance of the Higgs-like particle (about 3.5 seconds into the recording). The researchers created two versions, one as a piano solo, and the second with added bass, percussion, marimba and xylophone.

“The discovery of the Higgs-like particle is a major step forward in our knowledge of the world around us,” said DomenicoVicinanza, DANTE. “By using sonification we are able to make this breakthrough easier to understand by the general public, highlighting the depth and breadth of the enormous research efforts by the thousands of scientists around the world involved with the Large Hadron Collider. Neither the discovery of the particle or this sonification process would have been possible without the high speed research networks that connect scientists across the world, enabling them to collaborate, analyse data and share their results.”

Previous sonification projects from the team include the creation of music from volcanic activity around the world, making it easier to spot potential eruptions by listening to changes in musical pitch.
Source (with permission) :http://www.geant.net/Media_Centre/Pages/Higgs-like-Boson-Sonification.as…

 

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