The Future of European Education and Research Networking
by Hans-Peter Axmann and Sabine Payr
Europe is still lacking a truly pervasive high-performance network infra-structure for its scientific and educational community. An outline of current plans and discussions, with a particular glance at the EU 5th Framework Programme for RTD that is currently under preparation is presented here.
The role of research, technical development and training for the creation and preservation of markets and employment in Europe has long been acknowledged, as has been the responsibility of public authorities to create an environment that is favourable to research, education and innovation. Networks for electronic communication have become an indispensable part of this environment. A high-performance European network for research and education is necessary to:
- create a coherent and pervasive European research space
- intensify exchange, mobility and co-operation in higher education and training of researchers.
State of European Research and Education Networking
On the national level, some research networks have been developing quickly with public funding. There has been no equivalent development of European interconnectivity, resulting in a heterogeneous European network structure. The most recent attempt to tackle this on a truly European scale is TEN-34 (Trans-European Networking at 34 Mbps), supported under the 4th Framework Programme. However, this project had and still has to struggle with a number of difficulties, such as a too short time-frame, too complex consortium structures and cumbersome administrative overheads. The lesson to be learned is that, while TEN-34 is a valuable first effort, the procedures and regulations of a research project turn out to be unsuitable, notably insofar as:
- a longer time-frame for planning and function is necessary
- management and administration have to be kept simple and reflect existing structures of European co-ordination and co-operation.
The next generation of a European research and education network should offer a homogeneous high-speed core network, whose internal structure is invisible to any connecting network, with a topology that optimizes access from all European countries, allowing for flexible access bandwidth and upgrading according to different needs and possibilities, with a view to the progressive integration of all present and future EU member states.
Such a network could be built with a number of Euro-PoPs, exchanges which are able to handle high data volumes, interconnected at 622 Mbps and upgradable to Gbps in the future.
This infrastructure has to provide:
- 'production' level network services to educational, research and cultural institutions that are now being served by their respective NREN (National Research and Education Network) or are eligible as partners in their own right
- a test bed environment for the demonstration and validation of advanced networking applications in research and education. These two should preferably be provided as companion components of a common service.
The 5th Framework Programme fully acknowledges the need to support research infrastructure on a European level. In order to translate this intention into the most effective and efficient support for high-performance networking, we suggest that:
- a basic agreement is found between national network funding bodies and the Commission on sharing costs and ensuring continuity and upgrading of European high-speed interconnections over the whole duration of the Framework Programme
- the national research and education networks which are already organised on a European level (in TERENA) and have proven their successful cooperation jointly employ the services of a managerial body to organise an interconnection scheme and manage a pan-European backbone network. Together they should be responsible for the detailed technical and economic plans
- structures and administration be kept as simple as possible without, of course, giving up principles of effective control and good business practice
- immediate coordinated action is necessary so as to avoid gaps and start-up delays caused by initial negotiating and contracting phases and uncertainties.
These suggestions are based on the views of ENPG (European Group for Policy Coordination of Academic and Industrial Research Networking), TERENA (Trans-European Research and Education Networks Association), DANTE (Delivery of Advanced Network Technology to Europe) and the discussions in the workshops organised by the European Commission.
Hans-Peter Axmann - ENPG
Tel: +43 53120 7070
Sabine Payr - ENPG Secretariat
Tel: +43 53120 7040