NUANCE – November 2008


As we close the year, we would like to congratulate our colleagues in different communities on successfully going through Diwali; and Idd-Al-Adhuha.  For the Christians, a Merry Christmas.  And to all, a Happy and Prosperous New Year of Research and Education Networking!

The secretariat will close for holidays from 20th Dec 2008 to 3rd January 2009.  We shall however be checking email occasionally to attend to urgent matters.

Development Partners to support UbuntuNet Master Plan

Group phot of participants at the Development Partners Forum“We dream, I daresay, in rainbow colours, of an African continent where researchers in universities and research institutions will hold their own in the international community of peers, enabled by access to each other and the world through low cost gigabit connectivity. We have a dream of contracting the vast distances on this continent so that African content networks – the networks of researchers, librarians, lecturers and administrators – interact easily and effectively with each other to support contribution to national and human development. We dream of an Africa where a stable and peaceful environment, combined with high speed and cheap internet access attracts researchers from all over the world.  We know our dream will come true, not in fifty-five years like Martin Luther King’s, but in five years”.

In his opening remarks at the UbuntuNet Development Partners Forum, the Chairman of the Alliance (and Vice Chancellor of the University of Malawi), Prof Zimani Kadzamira, reflected on Martin Luther King’s dream for America, which has come true, and developed parallels with the UbuntuNet dream for Africa as quoted above.  This set the pace for a very productive day of interaction.

The Forum, held on the 10th of November in Lilongwe, attracted participation from the Association of African Universities – a key partner of UbuntuNet Alliance; IDRC (Canada); Sida (Sweden); Carnegie Corporation; European Commission; Global Medical Research Exchange (GMRE); The Partnership for Higher Education in Africa (PHEA); the fund for Fostering Research and Education Networking in Africa (FRENIA) provided by the Andrew Mellon Foundation through TENET (South African NREN); and the Network Startup Resource Centre (NSRC).  Also present were the Internet Educational Equal Access Foundation (IEEAF), DANTE/GÉANT, Internet2, the German NREN DFN, TERENA, and UbuntuNet’s old friend KTH.

Presentations made by the Board of the Alliance included the Strategic Plan; the Infrastructure Master Plan; and the Business Plan.  The development partners combined a very positive critique of the proposals with assurances of commitment of support in principle.  UbuntuNet management has been working with the development partners since the meeting, and we are looking forward to specific announcements of support early next year.

We acknowledge with thanks the funding from IDRC that enabled this forum to take place, and all the development partners for covering their own costs.

Research and Education Networking Pioneers Converge at UbuntuNet Connect 2008

Group photo of participants at the UbuntuNet Connect ConferenceThe theme for this year’s oversubscribed annual conference, UbuntuNet-Connect 2008, was “Driving Effective Research and Education Networking in Africa”. The audience was a vibrant mix of the young and the old – from the early twenties to the late seventies – with one thing in common: they were all pioneers.  This included people who were in at the start of some of the oldest research and education networks in Europe and the USA, and people from the African continent who are just starting out on the same path.  As one of the participants put it, the location was different in both space and time, but the challenges remained the same.  It was a learning experience for most of the younger participants from Africa, and an opportunity to once again feel that driving excitement of starting something for the more experienced participants from the USA and Europe.

Presentations ranged from an examination of the ever crucial content networks; to sharing experiences and lessons from established infrastructure networks; to examining fiber opportunities as well as policy and regulatory challenges on our continent; and to the proposed feasibility study into support for research and education networking in Africa by the European Commission.  (Visit to view the  presentations).  The presentations by SEACOM and EASSy brought home the fact that within eight months at most, high capacity fiber will start landing on the East cost of Africa, creating urgency in addressing the backhauls and national level networking if research and education are to seize this long-awaited opportunity as soon as it is available.

The NREN clinic at the end used a “How To” approach to help the budding NRENs address the many challenges they face, both organizational and technical.

UbuntuNet-Connect 2008 was hosted by the Malawi Research and Education Network, MAREN, and held through the generous support of IDRC.

Continuing Changes at the Secretariat: Google Apps for UbuntuNet Alliance e-mail domain

Google Apps for UbuntuNetYou may have noticed that UbuntuNet Alliance staff  have moved to as the mail address.  For Lilongwe staff, this means that they no longer use the address; this is made possible through a Google apps application which allows an organization to have customized e-mail addresses and related services, share resources and access their mail on the move. The Alliance is currently using the free version but there are higher level commercial versions offering more services.

NRENs who feel that this service may assist them in branding their NREN communications may visit

NRENs to apply for Autonomous System Numbers and IP addresses

Participating NRENs at UbuntuNet-Connect 2008 Conference were urged to acquire their own Autonomous System Numbers (ASNs) and to guide their member institutions in acquiring their own IP Addresses.  Presenting to the participants, Duncan Martin (CEO of TENET and a non-executive Director of UbuntuNet Alliance) stated that as a first step for NRENs to effectively participate in the global research and education networking, they would need to have their networks independent from the networks of their Internet Service Providers.

A specific session led by Dale Smith from the University of Oregon and the Network Startup Resource Center took the participants through a tutorial on determining address space needs as a pre-requisite for applying for own addresses.  (View the presentation at sites/default/files/Dsmith2-111108.pdf) There is a standing offer from FRENIA to meet the cost of the ASN and address space for NRENs.

Will the next Einstein come from Africa?

According to Neil Turok, as quoted in the New Scientist of 28 November 2008, “Africa is the biggest repository of untapped potential in the world!” Professor Turok, who comes from South Africa, is currently heading the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ontario. In his early career, he taught in rural Lesotho and “his experience with his students left a deep impression on him.” He went on to found AIMS, the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences, which offers in depth mathematical training to students drawn from across Africa. This initiative has received recognition from the African Union.

Let us believe that the high speed network being created by UbuntuNet Alliance will assist the participants in the AIMS programme in reaching their full potential through opportunities to participate in vast collaborative initiatives.  Then the Alliance will have been a building block in the development of the first African Einstein!

The full article is available here.

Feasibility Study for Africa Connect (FEAST)

FEAST Team Leaders with Carmen Mena-Abela (from the EC)The African Union Commission and the European Union Commission have recently agreed to co-fund 19 “Lighthouse projects”. The first project, Africa Connect, will support the establishment of a sustainable regional research infrastructure in Africa interconnected with GÉANT2 and other global resources for research and higher education. The study will be conducted in partnership by KTH, DANTE and TERENA, with KTH as main contractor.

– DANTE has successfully coordinated all previous EC-funded regional development projects
– KTH is well connected with relevant institutions and projects in Africa.
– TERENA is an association of European NRENs

The study will be conducted in cooperation with the AAU NREN Unit, the UbuntuNet Alliance, selected African and European NRENs and other committed stakeholders to ensure that both the African and the European perspectives are taken into account.

Full deatils about the FEAST Project are available at

UbuntuNet Alliance first Special Interest Group (Grid Computing) started

Grid Computing Tutorials in sessionThe 6th International Conference on Open Access, hosted by MAREN, the Malawi Research and Education Network in November 2008, and, this year, sponsored by OSISA had a focus on emerging fiber e-infrastructure opportunities and broad band connectivity initiatives around the African continent. The success of these initiatives open the door for education and research institutions to add to their “tools kits” a number of vital items such as grid computing. Under the EU FP7 research initiatives, an opportunity became available for 3 GRID trainers to attend the Open Access Conference and run a hands-on training on GRID Computing. UbuntuNet Alliance contributed some of the local costs.  Twenty of us from around Africa took part in the hands-on school / tutorial in Grid computing in the University of Malawi Nursing Library Internet Suite using the GILDA test bed.  Led by Roberto Barbera, three excellent trainers who are part of the  EU EELA Grid  project led the training (  A number of us “caught the bug” – and would like to see our NRENs spearhead the development of grid computing in Africa through a special interest group (SIG) to promote the use of grid computing across African NREN networks.  The Grid Computing SIG goes down in history as UbuntunNet’s first such group.

What is Grid Computing?
A grid is an open source system that allows users in one group to tap into resources residing in other, possibly geographically far-flung groups.  Grid computing is the “automated sharing and coordination of the collective processing power of many widely scattered, robust computers and applications that are not normally centrally controlled, and that are subject to open standards”. The resources shared within the grid can be physical objects (CPUs, storage devices) or logical resources (computing queues, distributed file systems).

Grid Computing and African NRENs
Modern (scientific) research frequently makes calls on computing resources (super computers, etc) that will, in most cases, be beyond the financial and human resources of typical African research and education institutions. Grid computing offers an opening for African scholars and researchers to access vital computing resources. The core vision, activities, and infrastructure initiatives that drive NRENs can be harnessed to build the network infrastructure requirements of grid computing applications as well as human resource capacity enhancement. NRENs should therefore collectively and systematically address through a special interest group (SIG) the opportunities (for African scholars and researchers) that grid computing offers by developing robust physical networks that support international collaboration involving African researchers.
The experience in developing grid computing in other parts of the world suggests the following steps:

  • Build a bridge between consolidated e-Infrastructure initiatives in other parts of the world.
  • Create a collaboration network to deploy a large portfolio of scientific applications on a well supported pilot test-bed.
  • Invest in training in grid technologies and in knowledge dissemination and outreach about grid computing.

The UbuntuNet Alliance grid computing special interest group (SIG) will:

  • Promote national and regional development of grid computing initiatives in support of research, including energy, climate change, biodiversity, disease control and management, computational science, and economic modeling.
  • Foster human resource capacity building in grid computing (national and regional) with the assistance of governments and partners.
  • Advocate for and design physical networks that will support grid computing applications.
  • Advocate for open access to global computing / networking resources so as to support cutting edge research by African groups and to incorporate Africa effectively into the exploitation of global networking initiatives.
  • IV. Conceive and execute appropriate projects that will facilitate research that requires a sizeable computational effort.
ISOC Fellowship to the IETF
The Internet Society has announced that it is seeking applications for the next round of the ISOC Fellowship to the IETF  program. The program offers engineers from developing countries fellowships that fund the cost of attending an Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) meeting Fellowships will be awarded through a competitive Application process. The Internet Society is currently accepting fellowship applications for the next two IETF meetings:

  • IETF 74 being held in   San Francisco, USA, 22 – 27 March 2009
  • IETF 75 being held in Stockholm, Sweden, 26 -31 July 2009

Up to five fellowships will be awarded for each IETF meeting.

Full details on the ISOC Fellowship to the IETF, including how to apply, are located on the ISOC website at:

Fellowship applications for both IETF meetings are due by 31 December 2008.

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