More NREN involvement needed in public service delivery using e-infrastructures – EU

Research and Education Networks are key actors in transforming developing economies into knowledge societies, spearheading technological and service innovation. They therefore deserve high political visibility towards governments, regulators and academia.  These were the words of Anni Hellman, Deputy Head of e-Infrastructures Unit, DG CONNECT at the European Commission in a presentation delivered on her behalf by Leonardo Flores Añover – Scientific Officer & eI4Africa/iMENTORS Project Officer – at the Joint eI4Africa/iMENTORS Conference under the theme: e-Infrastructures for Africa: Gateways to the Future held at Hotel Bloom in Brussels on October 29, 2014.

Commenting on AfricaConnect2 in the presentation titled e-Infrastructures & Horizon 2020, Annover added that e-Infrastructures should be leveraged for public service use: engagement of RENs in other public sectors such as e-Health, e-Government, e-Learning, e-Innovation and “e-Capacity Building.”

“Support is still needed for amongst other things, capacity building (in ICT, organisational, administrative); development of services and other local e-infrastructures on top of connectivity; development of local user communities;  and in coordinating efforts with the policy, legal and regulatory frameworks to influence communication markets,” continued Añover.
Añover concluded that it will be important for AfricaConnect2 implementers to identify showcase applications with societal impact such as e-Health as well as to engage donors and cooperating partners more by drawing synergies in activities of either parties that complement one another.

Añover also indicated that AfricaConnect2 which is expected to be approved soon should run from 2015-2019 at a cost of 26.6 million Euros, with EC funding of 20 million Euros. The programme will be implemented in three clusters: Cluster 1 comprising of Eastern and Southern Africa with UbuntuNet Alliance as the implementing partner; Cluster 2 being West and Central Africa with WACREN and DANTE as the implementing partners; while Cluster 3 will be comprised of North Africa and will be implemented by ASREN and DANTE.

The European Union is funding 80 per cent of the 14.8 million Euros of the four-year AfricaConnect project, which started in 2011. The project has established an affordable high-capacity Internet network for research and education in Southern and Eastern Africa that provides the region with a gateway to global research collaboration. This has tremendously reduced the cost of connectivity for African researchers.

2015 NREN agenda should tackle eliminating barriers to effectiveness

Eliminating internal and external barriers affecting National Research and Education Networks (NRENs) in the UbuntuNet Alliance membership region should be the core of the NREN agenda in 2015 says distinguished NREN Advocate, Duncan Martin.

In an interview with NUANCE, Dr Martin observed that although UbuntuNet Alliance has registered success at policy level as evidenced by the steadily increasing NREN members, more needs to be done at NREN level to address organisational and other internal challenges that plagued NRENs in 2014.

“My conclusion is that the Alliance is succeeding well at the political level – in growing its membership and as regards its recognition within the region and generally as one of the major regional RENs of the world.  Efforts must continue to assist REN project teams in Botswana and Zimbabwe and in the other countries that have yet to establish NRENs and join the Alliance,” Said Dr Martin.

Dr Martin continued to say that “… some member NRENs face organisational, technical, budgetary and/or regulatory difficulties that somehow prevent them from interconnecting with UbuntuNet and so participating in research and education networking.  This is bad for the entire REN community and we must work harder to enable these NRENs to participate.”

According to Dr Martin,  a solution is not far off as   AfricaConnect2, a continuation of the highly successful AfricaConnect project, is expected to inject increased operational efficiency  intothe  Alliance and value addition through the delivery of much needed services tailored to meet the specific needs of the user communities on the continent.

“The AfricaConnect Project is great value in this regard, as is demonstrated by the global REN services that the Alliance is delivering to RENU and to ZAMREN using intercontinental and regional network capacities deployed by the project.  Hopefully AfricaConnect II will be a prime focus during 2015.

UbuntuNet Alliance plans to address the   constraints encountered by NRENs in the past year through strengthening business training for CEOs and Chief Technical Officers (CTOs). In 2015, UbuntuNet Alliance is for the first time set to introduce NREN business training programmes tailored for CTOs.UbuntuNet Alliance will further prioritise creating sustainable and operational NRENs in all countries in the membership region.

Open access to academic literature creates visibility for Authors

research has never been easier since the Internet was developed. When conducting research, online, researchers often get thousands of leads yet most researchers hit a snag in their inquiries when price tags pop up on journal content. Despite allocating thousands of dollars in annual budgets to purchase journal most libraries cannot afford to purchase all the academic and scientific journals required by their clients.

According to Marangaze Mulhangaet, the unrestricted access to academic and scientific literature is currently under serious debate. The commercialization of scientific journals by commercial publishers is one of the most vivid examples.
“As it is known, scientific journals play a key role in disseminating research results. Despite its importance, libraries of higher education and research institutions face a huge challenge in the acquisition of scientific publications for its community as consequence of the monopoly of the commercial scientific publishers,” says researcher
“In many situations, the results from research produced in these institutions are submitted freely to commercial journals and the institutions end up being forced to buy the same publications afterwards. This is one of the factors that gave rise to the Open access (OA) movement,” adds

Benefits of Open access through the lens include increasing the visibility and use of research results and   increasing the balance in accessing information whereby everyone has access; researchers, teachers, students, institutions. Open access also increases the return on research investment among more benefits as well as makes researchers more prominent and recognised.

On the move to provision of value-added services to researcher

Functioning NRENs are in place in most parts of Africa, backbone networks are up but the debate on how African NRENs can move to provide real value to educators and researchers rages on.

This time, the debate took stage in Lusaka Zambia during UbuntuNet-Connect 2014 .Moderator by Dr Tusubira, the CEO of UbuntuNet Alliance, the debate took the form of a panel discussion panellists were Ann Harding, Josephine Nyiranzeyimana, and Dr Pascal Hoba incoming CEO of UbuntuNet Alliance.

Dr Pascal Hoba added that indeed there is need for the Alliance to harmonize its efforts with researchers by surveying what their needs are and meeting them.

While Josephine Nyiranzeyimana added that there was a clear need for NRENs to involve researchers more NREN activities.
And Ann Harding urged the National Research and Education Networks to  build trust with users of the networks.
Harding concluded by saying

“We need to develop the capabilities to listen to the needs of researchers and help develop that map in services together,”
The importance of African NRENs engaging user communities more through provision of value-added services has also been echoed by GĒANT Association’s Cathrin Stover

“We need to really engage with the user communities, find out what they are doing and ask they are not doing right and see how these user communities needs can be met,” Said Stover.
Top on the Alliance’s priority in 2015 is to conclude research to establish existing user communities and their needs with the aim of providing increased and effective support for regional and global user communities in the priority fields of health, agriculture and education.

SdNOG set to provide open forum for technical information

The research and education networking community of Sudan has everything to smile about this December as they break the news of the establishment of Sudanese Network Operators Group ( SdNOG).Dr. Sami Salih Chief Executive Officer of Sudanese Research and Education Network told NUANCE in an email recently.

sdNOG  is a non-profit group that provides an open forum to be used by any interested member from the Internet Community in Sudan, to exchange technical information and expertise in inter-networking. It will be managed and organised by a group of volunteers with the aim of capacity building and technology development.

The mission of sdNOG is “provision of open platform for knowledge exchange, capacity building and technical collaboration.” Reads the sdNOG website.
sdNOG is expected to derive its financial support from willing companies  and other ICT sector players.

“Sponsoring SdNOG activities will give you the opportunity to meet the central people who affect the ICT sector, and will develop your social network and reveal potential opportunities.  Moreover, it is a perfect opportunity to increase the visibility of your company, as a promoter of ICT in Sudan.  In addition, helping such activities will enhance the knowledge level countrywide and thus improve quality of the employment market,” the website page reads further.
Between 6 and 7 December,  SdNOG holds its first meeting at  Corinthia Hotel in Khartoum.

Africa needs Global Open Exchange Points

Peering involves two Internet networks coming together to exchange traffic with each other freely, and for mutual benefit. The lack of international peering hubs in African means that Africa is at a disadvantage and reduced cost is not yet fully realised, this is according to Network Startup Resource Center’s Dale Smith.

In a presentation at UbuntuNet-Connect 2014 in Lusaka, Smith said that establishment of international peering hubs in Africa could make connectivity cheaper, more reliable and help to build collaborative relationships

“There is need to re-architect the way African Research and Education Networks talk to each other,” this according to Smith points to the need for Global Open Exchange Points (GXPs).

Although Africa has a number of traditional exchange points in many countries like Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa and Tanzania. These exchange points are not as large and prove to be insufficient in the globalised state of research and education.
Globally the National Research and Education Network (NREN) CEO Forum formed a task force called the Global Network Architecture Working Group which  looks into issues such as  global coordination of connections between NRENs.

Global Network Architecture has since developed a global network model of Global Open Exchange Points (GXPs) aimed at  providing  attachment points for the high Bandwidth international circuits and Connection points for the Regional and National R&E networks that are part of and make use of the GNA infrastructure.

NSRC, through Smith, has since availed its support to those interested in pioneering Global Open Exchanges in Africa and for Africa.

AfricaCERT  strategic agreement to improve cyber security in Africa

ATI , AfricaCERT  strategic agreement to improve cyber security in Africa
The managers of the Africa Training Initiative and AfricaCERT in November announced a strategic partnership to facilitate closer cooperation and training collaboration to build capacity in the development and security of African networks.

The partnership aimed at fast racking the implementation of training programs to address key challenges in cyber security in Africa.
The Chief Technology Officer of WACREN, Omo Oaiya and AfricaCERT President, Jean Robert Hountomey issued a joint statement:

“Our agreement demonstrates that we are highly committed to establishing frameworks for building capacity to combat cyber criminals.  Statistics reveal that cybercrime is growing at a faster rate in Africa than it is in other continents with the estimated cost of cyber-crime to the global economy in the region of US$400 billion1.  By joining forces and leveraging the growth of NREN capability, we add muscle to our respective development strategies and fuel the delivery of a shared mission to develop solutions to challenges to the safety of the burgeoning African Internet.”

The Africa Training Initiative (ATI), a project operating under the auspices of WACREN and the UbuntuNet Alliance, the regional RENs for Western and Central Africa and for Southern and Eastern Africa respectively, is an independent community initiative developed and previously operated by Eko-Konnect, a cluster of the Nigerian Research and Education Network (NgREN) in the Lagos area.

ATI is expected to provide a sustainable capacity building ecosystem for African professionals through training and input into university programs, student involvement, industry participation, fostering Internet research and support structures such as Computer Emergency Response Teams (CERTs) and Network Operators Groups (NOGs).

Cybersecurity encompasses fighting crime, building resilience and creating a safe environment in which individuals and nations can develop.  In this spirit, Africa cyberspace leaders have pledged to achieve the “Establishment of a Credible Legal Framework for Cyber Security in Africa” and AfricaCERT supports this goal by building operational capacity for investigations, mitigation and cooperation with partners in the global cybersecurity landscape, says the  2014 McAfee Report on the Global Cost of Cybercrime.

 

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