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MEMO/08/133

Brussels, 29 February 2008

GÉANT: Europe's research network
– Frequently Asked Questions

What is GÉANT?

GÉANT is the advanced pan-European backbone network that interconnects all National Research and Education Networks (NRENs) across Europe. The network is used by around 30 million research and education specialists in more than 30 countries across the continent connected via the NRENs. GÉANT offers unrivalled geographical coverage, high bandwidth, innovative hybrid networking technology and a range of services, making it the most advanced international network in the world. Together with the NRENs it connects, GÉANT has links totalling more than 50,000 km in length, and now links to research networks in other world regions to enable global collaboration. European academics and researchers can request dedicated point-to-point optical-fibre links, creating very high speed private networks that connect specific research centres.

The project partners are 30 European National Research and Education Networks (NRENs), TERENA and DANTE. GÉANT is operated by DANTE on behalf of Europe’s NRENs.

Why is GÉANT needed?

Europe is home to the largest and most diverse group of academic and scientific researchers in the world. An extraordinary amount of data is collectively produced every month and is shared between researchers in different countries.

GÉANT reaches over 3,000 research and education institutions in over 34 countries through 30 national and regional research and education networks. It allows more data to be stored, transmitted and analysed than ever before. With GÉANT, researchers can make use of advanced network applications and perform cutting-edge projects.

Without high-speed research networks like GÉANT, many research projects and innovative science work at the forefront of their fields would simply not be possible.

What are the benefits of GÉANT?

  • It offers a massive data processing capacity:

GÉANT and its partner networks can transfer huge quantities of data, which has useful applications in, for example, radio astronomy and natural history. This opens up new means of research that were previously not possible (e.g. by making available collections online; linking radio antennas creating a virtual antenna the size of the globe).

  • It is a Global interconnection:

GÉANT connects European researchers with colleagues in North America, Japan, Mediterranean, Latin-America, Asia-Pacific rim, North Africa and the Middle East, South Africa, Caucasus and Central Asia to support European scientists in their global communication and collaboration needs.

  • It helps to maintain Europe’s leadership in research:

GÉANT achieved global leadership in this sector through the wide-scale use of
10 Gb/s technology previously not available on the market. This attracted much leading-edge research work to Europe (e.g. on version 6 of the Internet Protocol – IPv6, “Grid” networked computing and radio-astronomy). GÉANT has sustained its lead by procuring “dark fibre” to provide individual high speed links for the most advanced research communities.

Examples range from radio astronomers linking their telescopes around the world, to high-energy physicists sending previously unimaginable amounts of data, or the linking of bio databases that allow scientists to tackle the most challenging problems we face today (such as avian flu or climate change). Consequently, GÉANT may be thought of as being one of the foundation stones of the European Research area (ERA).

How is GÉANT funded and organised?

GÉANT is co-funded by the European Union’s Sixth Framework Programme. The funding contract groups a number of research and education networking activities, which are managed together as a project.

The project partners are the 30 European NRENs which are connected to and served by GÉANT, plus DANTE and the Trans-European Research and Education Networking Association (TERENA), an association of NRENs dealing with technical work and acting as a discussion platform for the development of a high-quality computer networking infrastructure for the European research community.

The European Commission provides funding of € 93 million from 1 September 2004 until May 2009 (total funding € 200 million). Overall co-ordination is done by DANTE.

Much of the contract activity relates to building, operating and developing the GÉANT network infrastructure, and to the services that it provides to users. Further activities relate to the broader development of research and education networking in Europe.

Why is the EU involved?

EU funding is needed to upgrade Europe’s research and education networking infrastructure, so as to boost Europe’s attractiveness as a place to do research. EU funding enabled GÉANT to stay at the forefront of research networking technology.

National Research and Education Networks (NRENs) need to be able to use the next generation Internet (Internet Protocol version 6 - IPv6) and to carry high-volume and high-speed broadband communications in order to satisfy both the needs of hundreds of thousands of researchers as well as the ones of very large national and international research organisations. To meet these expanding users' needs, GÉANT also has to combine traditional routed IP networks with switched photonics circuits.

This network provides a fundamental building block for the European Research Area. Via EUMEDconnect for the Mediterranean countries, via SEEREN in the Balkans, via BSI around the Black Sea, via SILK/OCCASION to Central Asia, via TEIN2 (Europe and the Asia-Pacific region), via ALICE (Europe and Latin America), via a dedicated high speed link to South Africa and the UbuntuNet Alliance African countries, and the long-standing trans-Atlantic partnership, GEANT2 is an advanced communication and collaboration infrastructure for all research and education communities in Europe. It acts as an integrator of national facilities and has demonstrated its structuring effect on the European research landscape.

GÉANT facilitates the collaboration of scientists worldwide, within the virtual research communities needed to generate breakthroughs in very high-tech areas (e.g. CERN, radio-astronomy, bio-technology). Providing high-speed connectivity has not only improved the cost-effectiveness of research, but has fundamentally transformed the way in which research is carried out. Results from a remote laboratory are available instantly, rather than after 3 weeks or more.

GÉANT and the NRENs also provide access to remote resources that are sometimes too costly for a single country to further enhance (e.g. connectivity to telescopes that are usually in remote places).

How is research and education networking structured in Europe?

The data communications infrastructure in Europe is organised in a hierarchical way, as a ‘network of networks’. An end-to-end pathway between two network users in different countries in Europe can run via several different networks. For example, data travelling between two users may cross a local area network at campus level, then be carried by regional and national networks before entering the pan-European network (GÉANT). It would then flow back down the hierarchy via another national network to its destination. These end-to-end supply chains form the fibre optic mesh of data communications networks that serve Europe’s research and education community (and as such are very distinct from the way a telecommunications operator manages its network).

GÉANT’s direct customers are Europe’s National Research and Education Networks (NRENs). Each NREN has as its customer-base, all of the academic and research institutions of that country. The structure varies from one country to another so these customers may, for example, be regional networks, wide area networks, or university networks.

Who uses GÉANT?

With over 30 million users, the GÉANT network’s applications are almost limitless. Any type of research, in any school or university, uses the services that GÉANT offers. These range from high-bandwidth data transfers needed for most demanding research (e.g. high-energy physics experiments, or interconnecting radio telescopes or biological collections) to guidance for less demanding users who are keen to make use of GÉANT’s geographical reach.

How does GÉANT compare to Japan, China and USA's networks?

The complexity of Europe’s collaborative research networks can be turned into a positive advantage through large-scale infrastructures such as GÉANT.

The American, Chinese and Japanese research networks are fragmented. This makes it harder to use resources efficiently and to supply services to their entire science and education sectors. In comparison, GÉANT has achieved critical mass and a substantial world-lead in terms of technical capabilities and operational expertise. Its big achievement is the establishment of a massive pan-European dark fibre network. Although other networks in the US, Canada and Japan have already rolled-out similar networks, GÉANT’s approach combines dark fibre and traditional broadband technology in “hybrid” networking. Such deployment is far more complex and includes many more actors than other installations.

What are the real economic benefits of GÉANT?

GÉANT widely deployed low-cost and highly efficient networks and innovative networking technologies. These are now -some years after their introduction in GÉANT- routinely being used by Internet Service Providers (ISPs). As this leading-edge technology becomes more mature and is widely used by National Research and Education Networks across Europe, prices have decreased and they can be readily deployed for the mass market. One key example is the use of 10 Gb/s links as early as 2004, at a time when the largest customers of telecom operators ordered not more than 155 Mb/s. GÉANT demonstrated the viability and cost effectiveness of using such high-speed networks and the usefulness of making these available to end-users. Today, such a service is also available to telecom operator's customers (e.g. ISPs, banks, insurances, etc.). Another example is the topology of networks: ISPs regularly copy the last generation network topology of the National Research and Education Networks. They know that these topologies are very resilient, fast and cost effective at the same time.

What are the challenges for GÉANT?

  • The Digital Divide

The costs and availability of networking infrastructure varies widely across the enlarged European Union. GÉANT helps less favoured countries to benefit from liberalised markets in other parts of Europe and enables them to develop new and innovative ways to overcome the inadequacies of their own markets (e.g. cost-efficient fibre solutions in the Balkans).

  • Bottlenecks at the university level

Some universities are still unaware of the potential offered by advanced communication for the scientific collaboration and creation of new research tools for science. By driving forward fast broadband (i.e. 10 Gb/s) connection of each university and research centre in Europe, GÉANT and the NRENs have helped to develop new markets and accelerate the wide-scale roll-out of broadband technology to citizens.

  • Sustainable development/rational use of resources

The GÉANT infrastructure is paid for with European public research funds. Joint funding of GÉANT by both the European Commission and EU Member States ensures that only the most cost-efficient technologies and working methods are used, and that they maximise the impact of resources made available. These Europe-wide efforts help to overcome local limitations and spur innovative and cost-effective solutions where the market does not provide any other choice. With EU funding, GÉANT is able to maintain its status quo and play an innovative and leading-edge role. GÉANT benefits European industry not only by buying goods and services, but by acting as a strong partner with whom to validate prototypes and advanced provisioning concepts.

  • Schools and Education

GÉANT interconnects the national Research and Education Networks across Europe. The very large number of schools poses a particular problem in terms of service provision, as they often lack the technical know-how to operate a local school network and to provide advanced services (when compared for instance to a university campus network). The NRENs provide specific support to schools in close cooperation with local universities which also provide training and support to the schools network in their region. For example, NRENs and universities can together negotiate country-wide contracts with scientific publishers to obtain much better subscription rates as a group, than a university library can individually.

  • Assessment and benchmarking of market liberalisation

GÉANT provides a benchmarking tool for assessing each country’s degree of broadband availability. In less-advanced areas, the GÉANT community seeks to close gaps by transferring technical, managerial and policy expertise via workshops, consultancy and secondments.

  • Enhancing mobility of researchers

The research activities carried out in GÉANT can be considered as a roaming service for all researchers, giving them access to the working environment that they use in their home university, no matter where they are.

What is DANTE?

Established in 1993, DANTE (Delivery of Advanced Network Technology to Europe) is a non-profit organisation whose main mission is to design and implement pan-continental research and education networks on behalf of European National Research and Education Network organisations (NRENs). Owned by 15 European NRENs and working in co-operation with the European Union, DANTE has a proven track record in project management and delivery, supported by extensive commercial knowledge of the market place combined with a deep technical understanding. .

The company currently has 33 full time staff, many of whom are multi-lingual, representing 13 nationalities from around the world. Such an international workforce is able to make an efficient contribution to the collaborative networking projects it participates in across the world.

DANTE is currently managing initiatives focused on Europe, the Mediterranean, Latin-American and Asia Pacific regions through the GÉANT, EUMEDCONNECT, ALICE and TEIN2 projects respectively. A link was recently established connecting GÉANT to the UbuntuNet Alliance in Sub-Saharan Africa.

What is TEIN2?

The Trans-Eurasia Information Network (TEIN) is a regional research and education network connecting around 4000 institutions with over 30 million end-users in the Asian and Pacific region.

The original idea to create TEIN was proposed at the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) Summit in 2000 and since 2004 the EC has taken the lead, providing 10 million EUR funding for TEIN2 until September 2008.

TEIN2 managed to connect 10 countries from the Asian and Pacific region at the speeds up to 2.5 Gbps. The project is implemented by Dante, who is managing the TEIN2 network. For more information, visit www.tein2.net.

Which countries are connected to TEIN2?

Currently there are 10 countries connected, 6 of them with the financial support of the EC and 4 more developed countries on their own costs.

China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, The Philippines and Vietnam are connected under the EC support.

Australia, Japan, Singapore, South Korea are connecting bearing their own costs of connectivity.

Laos and Cambodia are expected to join the network soon.

What is TEIN3?

Based on a big success of the TEIN2, the EC decided to continue funding the network.

On February 20th, the EC announced a new financial package for the new phase.

TEIN3 will receive increased funding of 12 million EUR and connect additional 3 to 4 countries from the South Asian region.

The currently connected countries will increase their own financial participation in bearing the costs of the network.

Why is EU supporting research and education networking in Asia?

Research and education networks provide high-scale internet connection to academic institutions in high capacity and at affordable price. This enables them to collect and exchange enormous amounts of data with other partners of the network.

Supporting the creation and functioning of such networks, the EC enable the academic institutions in less developed countries to get connected to the outside world and exchange information with more advanced partners.

This is a huge step in decreasing the digital divide between the developing and developed world. With the access to modern technologies, the education and research sectors get modernized and drive the change in other sectors.

This contributes to increased economic development, opening up of the societies in developing countries and democracy building.

Why is Dante implementing TEIN3?

Dante is a non-profit organisation founded by 15 European NRENs implementing the GÉANT2 network in Europe. It has unique experience in establishing research and education networks, managing large-scale connections and capacity building for NRENs. For this reason, and thanks to it's non-profit character as well as public background, it is involved in developing the research and education networks in other regions worldwide.

In Asia, Dante has successfully managed to set up the TEIN2 network and operate it without major black-outs.

In TEIN3 the main challenge for Dante will be to find an Asian successor taking over the management of TEIN3.

Further information :

Press pack

e-Infrastructures under the EU's 7th framework programme of research:
http://cordis.europa.eu/fp7/ict/e-infrastructure/home_en.html

www.geant2.net

www.tein2.net

www.eumedconnect.net

alice.dante.net

www.seeren.org

www.blacksea-net.org


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