NUANCE – July 2014

UbuntuNet Alliance CEO speaks on new UbuntuNet links, AfricaConnect progress

UbuntuNet Alliance and DANTE (Delivery of Advanced Network Technology to Europe) this month announced the commissioning of new high speed UbuntuNet network links each offering improved speeds of  622Mbps (STM-4).  These new links will improve research collaboration between African researchers and the global community.

On July 17, 2014, a newly established high speed circuit between Dar es Salaam in Tanzania and Lusaka, Zambia was commissioned. With a capacity of 622Mbps, this new circuit is part of connections that will link not only ZAMREN, but also DRC’s Eb@le, and MAREN, the Malawian NREN. While a cross-border circuit linking Nairobi and Kigali via Kampala with a capacity of STM-4 is providing tremendously improved high speed connectivity for the research and education community in Uganda through RENU, the NREN of Uganda.

In response to the news, NUANCE posed a few to questions to UbuntuNet Alliance CEO, Eng. Dr FF Tusubira, Tusu as he prefers to be called.

What is the significance of the just-completed UbuntuNet link between Dar es Salam and Lusaka; and the link from Nairobi to Kigali via Kampala to the Alliance and to the people of Africa?

“We are delivering international and regional bandwidth to NRENs on this continent at a consolidated sum of $135 per megabit per second per month. I find this exciting, because, at last we have eliminated one barrier to regional participation in global research and education collaboration,” said Dr Tusubira.

Looking at progress of the AfricaConnect funded component of UbuntuNet this far, with all the NRENs connected at their various capacities, what must be done to accelerate uptake of the UbuntuNet network to realize project objectives by 2015?

First, I must clarify that UbuntuNet was in existence as an operational network with presence in Africa and Europe before the EU funded AfricaConnect project.  AfricaConnect has helped us to accelerate the rollout of the regional component of our network, and for this, we shall always be grateful to the people of Europe.  What is interesting actually is that we have already achieved the specific project objectives, thanks to the strong partnership and rapport that has developed between the Alliance and DANTE: connecting more than the stipulated minimum number of countries; bringing bandwidth costs down (our target was $200 per megabit per second per month and we are now at $130); and building capacity, especially engineering capacity where we have worked a lot with the Network Startup Resource Center of the University of Oregon, the International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications, the Internet Society, and AfNOG.

Responding to the big question on whether AfricaConnect has made progress towards addressing the broader objectives of reducing the digital divide and strengthening African-European research collaboration, Tusu says:

“I would say certainly yes while recognizing that we still have a long, long way to go, many more challenges to address. Our ever present light and vision is enabling Africa-based researchers and academics to play their part in the global development discourse without being impeded by barriers of circumstances.”

Appreciating that the digital divide is a dynamically increasing quantity Tusu concludes by saying:

“We must learn to move faster than the rate of increase if we really want to address it.”

World Cup 2014, Research and Education Networks behind the scenes

Research and Education Networks (RENs) are the custodians of the football experience, one would say.  For it is here that new technology and knowledge that keeps the game of football, the world’s favourite sport, is born.

From the research behind the success of Germany,  crowned the world’s best football team,  to defining moments shaped by the goal-line technology and of course  the  high definition TV screens that beamed the matches to fans across the world, you just cannot take RENs out of the most loved sport on the planet!

First, look at the research behind the World Cup champions Germany. Germany who became four-time World Cup winners spilled the secret behind their 7-1 victory over South American football giants Brazil.  In an interview with Reuters, Germany’s Assistant Coach Hansi Flick apart from scouting and preparations, listed two years of in-depth university research by students as one of the tenets of Germany’s success.

Second, a new technology that took charge of events on the pitch. Enter goal-line technology. Goal-line technology is another innovation that seasoned the 2014 World Cup and kept fans glued to their seats. Introduced by The International Football Association Board to help match officials determine whether or not the ball has passed the goal line in doubtful situations, it works by sending automatic goal signals within one second to watches worn by officials.

The World Cup game between France and Hondurus on June 15 gave the technology its first real test.  The French beat Hondurus 3-0, one of the goals was determined using goal- line technology.

Third, broadcasting and viewing technologies brought the action home. Besides, not all 3.5 billion football fans across the world could made it to Brazil’s stadiums. Most relied on social media and indeed good-old television to catch the football action. Thanks to collaboration between the research networks of Brazil (RNP) and Japan (SINET), Japanese fans enjoyed the games in 8K resolution. This is 16 times more detailed than current 1080p High Definition TVs!

Japanese public television company, NHK, streamed the matches live in 8K to seven viewing sites, four of them in Japan, in the cities of Tokyo, Yokohama, Osaka  and Tokushima, and three of them in Rio at the International Broadcast Centre, the Sofitel hotel (FIFA’s main hotel) and the auditorium of the Brazilian Center for Physics Research (CBPF).A selected audience of students, researchers, professors, authorities and journalists enjoyed the action on very large screens at CBPF in Brazil. The 8K images were captured with cameras created by NHK innovators. These tiny cameras use 8K Image sensors.

Now, the world is looking to RENs for new technologies to wow the world come World Cup 2018!

4th eI4Africa  Workshop calls for increased collaboration on Tanzania’s super-computer

Tanzania is widely popular for the iconic Mount Kilimanjaro standing at 19,341ft above sea level, the great migration, scenic views in Zanzibar, delightful African cuisine and sunny skies. But there is more to Tanzania. The East African country is home to some of the most powerful computing devices on the African continent: the Param Serengeti Supercomputer, managed by the Dar Es Salaam Institute of Technology (DIT).

During the 4th ei4AfricaThematic Workshop themed ”High Performance Computing for Public Good” held on 3rd June 2014 in Dar Es Salaam, the Tanzanian government called on African researches to explore collaborative opportunities and maximize utilization of the HPC infrastructure.

“It is very important for researchers from Africa to capitalize on such collaborations to enhance capacity on applications. Besides, there are many fronts where researchers from Europe and Africa can work together for mutual benefits,” said Professor Makame Mbarawa, Tanzania’s Minister of Communication, Science and Technology when he opened the 4th eI4Africa Thematic Workshop. Mbarawa also thanked the European Commission, FP7 program for funding the ei4Africa project which he described as an eye opener for Africa to see available e-Infrastructures in Africa and promote collaboration and networking.

And DIT Principal Professor John Kondoro Said the DIT through Higher Education and Research Institutions (HERI) network that is overseen by TERNET and COSTECH aims at making Tanzania’s Param Serengeti Supercomputer accessible to all interested institutions in Tanzania and the world over.

The highly successful eI4Africa thematic workshop attracted 63 participants from Universities, Research Institutes, NRENs and government ministries from across Africa, Europe and USA. It was organised by DIT with the support of Sigma Orionis, UbuntuNet Alliance and all eI4Africa project partners and co-hosted by the Tanzania Commission for Science and Technology (COSTECH) and the Tanzania Research and Education Network (TERNET).

The thematic workshop was followed by the Technology Transfer Alliance (TTA) Conference 2014 where the eI4Africa consortium (KTH, DIT, Brunel, Cometa, Sigma Orionis) was strongly represented. Wrapping up this four part workshop series will be the joint eI4Africa/iMENTORS Conference opportunities on e-Infrastructures to interested communities and in offering networking themed “e-Infrastructures for Africa: Gateways to the Future” slated for Brussels, Belgium, on October 29th.

WACREN and the UbuntuNet Alliance programme to foster internet development in Africa

West and Central African Research and Education Network (WACREN) and the UbuntuNet Alliance for Research and Education Networking, the regional Research and Education Networking organization for Eastern and Southern Africa, have signed an agreement to adopt the Africa Training Initiative (ATI) a programme that is highly expected to foster accelerated development of the Internet across the African continent. This MOU serves to enable the two regional research and education networking bodies to implement the ATI as a defined and endorsed project under their auspices.The ATI 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.

Apart from contributing to the development of the Internet in Africa, the ATI  which will be facilitated and supported through the NREN members, will also promote the  adoption of best practices in building and protecting the Internet as well as fostering the emergence of a productive environment for the growing community of African users.

It is expected that ATI will 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).

The initiative is a sustainable, ongoing and replicable framework for skills and capacity growth, and it will also provide a platform for collaboration with internal and external sources of expertise.

Commenting on the development, Dr. Boubakar Barry, CEO of WACREN said he looked forward to expanded relationships with African organizations and their partners.

“This initiative is of common interest to the regional research and education networks because we recognize the importance of self-sustainability, independent growth, continuity of learning and self-support in establishing long term technical and Internet capability in Africa,” declared Dr Barry.

On his part, Dr. Tusu Tusubira, CEO of UbuntuNet Alliance highlighted the need for strategic and tactical approaches to sustainable capacity building.

“We have been doing a lot of stopgap training and building capacity outside the training institutions. We need to ensure that our universities internalize the approaches so that graduates are more market ready to operate data networks,” said Dr Tusubira.

WACREN and UbuntuNet Alliance are partners in the ongoing AfricaConnect project and have been collaborating closely since their establishment. pic: courtesy of RENU

Malawi’s collaborative research centre to improve health care

It is a fact that a Malawian nurse cannot buy a car working normal hours! It is also a fact that Malawian nurses are pushed to work almost 24 hours a day to compensate for meagre salaries through overtime shifts. Consequently, negative attitudes and burnout are major challenges hampering delivery of high quality health care in Malawi’s public hospitals, a study by a newly inaugurated professor has revealed.

Making her inaugural lecture at a colourful ceremony held at the Bingu International Conference Centre in Lilongwe, the Malawi capital, researcher Professor Address Malata, who is Principal at Kamuzu College of Nursing (KCN) said increased investment in the Malawi health sector could help raise the standard of health services in the Central African country.

Professor Malata further called for policy change in Malawi to map clear career progression in the nursing field in order to motivate highly trained nurses to get to work even ‘in the labour wards.’

The Professor said Malawian nurses also work in heavily congested wards where five children have to share one bed creating an unfavourable work environment for the professionals.

The research and education community in Malawi also celebrated Vice-Principal of KCN Professor Ellen Chirwa who delivered her inaugural lecture at the same function. The event also marked the launch of the Doctor of Philosophy programme in Health Care Leadership; a programme aimed at preparing expert health care professionals for leadership and evidence-based practice.

The US government is supporting Malawi’s health sector through among other things funding collaborative research and capacity building. USAID funds KCN’s Nursing Education Partnership Initiative (NEP) which is implemented collaboratively by KCN and the International Center for AIDS Care and Treatment Programs at Columbia University (ICAP).

Speaking on behalf of the US government, US Ambassador to Malawi Col Jeanine Jackson expressed optimism that the PhD programme would strengthen the nursing and midwifery profession by imparting skills and knowledge that will increase the number of nurse leaders and researchers in nursing in Malawi.

In 2011, ICAP launched NEPI to promote nursing and midwifery education by training nurses and midwives who are able to provide bed-side care to rural populations in Malawi where nurses provide most primary and HIV care.

ICAP is also supporting 4 out of 7 candidates currently enrolled in the Inter-professional Leadership Program.

Meanwhile, University of Malawi through Vice Chancellor Professor John Kalenga Saka has applauded the PhD program and said that building the capacity of researchers would greatly assist Malawi to address challenges dogging Malawi’s health care delivery.

Supporting education in Namibia through the schools strategy

There are many adorable smiles on young faces in Namibia these days.  Xnet the Namibian NREN is providing high speed connectivity to over 450 educational institutions of which 337 are schools. Now that is a reason to smile for the schools and their students who are enjoying services such as school management, time-tabling, financial management and communication portal services!

It all started in 2002 when it was realized that Internet Service providers (ISPs) in Namibia were not ready to provide connectivity to schools. Meanwhile the whole of Africa was awakening to the importance of the Internet.

Then SchoolNet Namibia, a Namibian NGO had already dedicated itself to refurbishing computers, training staff and configuring internet services with the aim of promoting education through sustainable use of ICTs in Namibian schools.

However, high cost of connectivity forced more and more schools to opt out of using the Internet. Progress was being nabbed in the bud. Something had to be done. An agreement between Telcom Namibia, a principal telecommunications service provider and SchoolNet Namibia led to Xnet Development Alliance Trust (Xnet).

Xnet began to provide Internet services at a flat rate of N$300. Today Xnet with mandate from the Namibian Government is providing connectivity not just to schools, but the entire Namibian education system.

Connecting schools is often a daunting task for most NRENs, but according to Kuria Namibia has a unique education system whereby there are only three tertiary education institutions including two public universities in the ‘land with many horizons’ as Namibia is fondly called. This forced Xnet to broaden its client base by shifting attention to schools.  It was the only way for the NREN to be sustainable declares Kuria.

“Establishing the Xnet Development Alliance Trust was not an easy task, however, the benefits accrued from such an initiative are extremely relevant for the development of the Namibian nation,” adds Wilfred Kuria, Xnet CEO.

The NREN currently hosts the school management system of the Ministry of Education and ensures that the data collected from the schools is available to the policy makers when needed.

The Xnet story of indicates that perhaps the impossible is not so impossible after all, schools can be connected if NRENs try. The word to remember in attempting to service schools is strategy, strategy, and strategy!

Advancing campus networks in Uganda through technical skills training

The need to equip UbuntuNet Alliance member NRENs, NREN personnel and staff of NREN member institutions with skills to deliver appropriate solutions in a changing environment cannot be overemphasized.  Delegates at the UbuntuNet Alliance Leaders Indaba held in Entebbe, Uganda on 30 June to 2 July 2014 agreed to strengthen capacity building programmes targeting mainly technical personnel and to institute training needs assessment to inform capacity building initiatives.

Network and system engineers/administrators of member institutions from Research and Education Network for Uganda (RENU) which is one of the NRENs that has maximised the available UbuntuNet Alliance facilitated capacity building initiatives, recently benefitted from one such training programme.

On April 28, 2014, RENU organised a Campus Network Design (CND) Workshop with 27 participants from Ugandan universities and research institutions at Uganda Christian University (UCU), Mukono campus. The training was facilitated by six trainers from Network Startup Resource Center (NSRC) and three regional trainers attached to National Research and Education Networks (NRENs) in the East African region.  RENU CEO Isaac Kasana describes the training:

“The training is important for developing network engineering capacity among member institutions to enable them build and manage campus networks effectively and ensure optimal network performance. Secondly, it facilitates human networking among technical staff of member institutions.”

At the end of the CND training which imparted skills in planning, designing, deploying and administering robust campus networks, participants agreed that the workshop was useful; they had a better understanding of their campus networks and were intending to apply the newly acquired insights to their networks.

A four-day Direct Engineering Assistance (DEA) exercise at Uganda Christian University and Nkumba University followed the CND Training. The DEA exercise was a follow-up of the training, aimed at helping the selected universities to apply the newly acquired skills on ‘live’ networks.

The Ugandan Senior Presidential Advisor on ICT, Dr Ham Mulira commended RENU for the efforts to improve network and Internet access for education and research institutions.  The CND workshop was the first post-training of trainers’ programme of the AfricaConnect ( project in Uganda through UbuntuNet Alliance. Other partners in the RENU capacity building training included International Network for Availability of Scientific Publications (INASP), Network Startup Resource Center (NSRC), and Uganda Christian University.

African Inter-federation could ease eduroam

Delegates at the recent UbuntuNet Alliance Leaders’ Indaba held in Entebbe, Uganda have agreed that it is essential for UbuntuNet Alliance and WACREN to promote the deployment of national Identify federations by NRENs and form a continent-wide inter-federation to ease access to e-Infrastructure services such as eduroam, a service that is already being offered by four National Research and Education Networks (NRENs) in Africa.

Making his presentation, which formed the basis for discussions, Dr Duncan Martin, Consultant at UbuntuNet Alliance made reference to four Catch-All Identity Providers (IdPs) deployed by NgREN, KENET, TERNET and TENET/SANReN under the auspices of the ei4Africa project, and urged the Regional RENs to work towards establishing an inter-federation with the goal of joining eduGAIN. eduGAIN is a service developed within the GÉANT project which  interconnects identity federations around the world, simplifying access to content, services and resources for the global research and education community.

The Indaba also acknowledged progress of eduroam deployment in Africa. Four African NRENs have become national “Roaming Operators” of eduroam: Kenya (KENET); Morocco (MARWAN); South Africa (TENET / Meraka); and Zambia (ZAMREN). Dr Martin observed that the Roaming Operators send cross-border requests for the service to Europe due to lack of servers on the continent.

He noted that in Europe the inter-federation of eduroam servers are operated by SURFnet (Holland) and Forskningsnettet (Demark); and in the Far East similar servers are operated by AARNET, the NREN of Australia and the University of Hong Kong.

NREN Leaders at the Indaba indorsed Dr Martin’s recommendation that UbuntuNet Alliance and WACREN should work towards establishment of an African confederation of eduroam and operate similar servers to increase the quality of service.

The NREN CEOs and representatives from DANTE applauded the recommendations for their urgency and practicality. Cathrin Stover, Chief International Relations and Communications Officer at DANTE also applauded the recommendation hinting that the Alliance and WACREN could also pick lessons from similar successful initiatives by GÉANT.

Eduroam which means education roaming is a secure, world-wide roaming access service developed by TERENA for the international research and education community. The service allows students, researchers and staff from participating institutions to obtain Internet connectivity across campuses and when visiting other participating institutions by simply opening their laptop. Overseeing eduroam on the global landscape is the Global eduroam Governance Committee (GeGC) to which different regions dedicate representatives.

Within the framework of eI4Africa project KENET, TERNET, MAREN, NgREN and TENET/SANReN have also established Certification Authorities, some of which are in the process of being certified by the European Grid Policy Management Authority (EUGridPMA). The three day meeting in Entebbe was financed by the AfricaConnect Project which is implementing the UbuntuNet network across Eastern and Southern Africa.

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