Europe is renowned for its academic prowess, but technology is increasingly becoming a larger factor of moving research forward.
Not only do universities and other research institutions need strong networks to conduct their own studies, they also are working more closely together, collaborating on projects to garner expertise without having to be in the same location.
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A key underpinning of this process is the Delivery of Advanced Network Technology to Europe (DANTE). The non-profit organisation was set up almost 20 years ago to provide a dedicated communications network to the more local networks run in each country, such as the JANET network in the UK.
“We focus on high quality and our services are more advanced than what is available commercially,” says Michael Enrico, chief technology officer (CTO) at DANTE. “For example, we have been running IPv6 on our network for more than 10 years.”
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“Networks have a dual remit,” he says. “Yes, they have to provide high-quality internet access and data transit between institutions, but their other remit is to support research into networking in its own right.
“We are expected to be early adopters and at the cutting edge of these technologies, hence what we did with IPv6, or if you take something like multitasking, which we have again done for some time.”
There are 32 regional networks connected to the GÉANT network, run by DANTE, serving universities and colleges, as well as schools and some government organisations in select countries.
“We have 40-50 million researchers involved but they are like the eyeballs on the end of the network,” says Enrico. “DANTE is the backbone and it is something for each of the regional networks to build on, then with institutions on top of that.”
These researchers are in need of the best capabilities out there and in 2012 DANTE realised there was a need to update its own network to provide them.
“Our previous transmission was getting old,” Enrico says. “Requirements were progressing, such as the demand to light up networks with 100Gbps capacity, and it was time to refresh.”
DANTE is funded by the European Commission’s (EC) framework programmes and with funding from FP7, DANTE began to look at options to increase this capacity.
We are expected to be early adopters and at the cutting edge of these technologies
Michael Enrico, DANTE
After following the strict procurement process, which seeks out the most "economically advantageous" solution, rather than the cheapest, the decision was taken to deploy Infinera’s DTN-X platform into the network.
“About a year ago this process resulted in us picking Infinera for our WDM (wavelength division multiplexing) optical layer,” says Enrico.
The technology was able to provide the much needed capacity to research institutions, but it was the management of this capacity that particularly impressed DANTE.
“At the end of the day, there were various reasons why [Infinera] were the winners, but from a technological perspective they were the leaders in photonic integration, bringing the many optical components [together] to do what Intel has been doing for the microprocessor for a number of years,” says Enrico.
"There is the lower power consumption to think of, and more reliability, but the flexibility is key. We work in large chunks of bandwidth, with an install capacity of 500Gbps, but thanks to the integrated OTN (optical transport network) you can provision smaller chunks, be it 100Gbps, 10Gbps or even 1Gbps.”
With the added control plane using GMPLS (generalised multi-protocol label switching), these capacities can be provisioned and allocated quickly to those researchers demanding it, who need things up and running as fast as possible.
When [researchers] get the go-ahead, they want the services to have been installed yesterday, so we have to act quickly
Michael Enrico, chief technology officer (CTO) at DANTE
“The problem in the past, especially with research projects, is they were dependent on funding so are unwilling to commit to technology until funding is signed off,” says Enrico. “When they get the go-ahead, however, they want the services to have been installed yesterday, so we have to act quickly.
“These Infinera products give us a great advantage.”
DANTE is about 90% through the deployment process at the moment, expecting to complete in May, but it is looking to the future, beyond European boundaries, of how it will be able to aid even more regional networks and researchers worldwide.
“DANTE is also involved in various projects, promoting networks in developing parts of the world, funded by European aid programmes,” says Enrico. “Over the years, we have lent expertise so regional networks in Latin America could be set up, as well as in less-wealthy areas of the Asia Pacific and we connect to those parts of the world.
“But we also connect to our peers, such as Internet2 in the US, as we have capacity over the Atlantic and are currently working on the first 100Gbps network link.”
He adds: “Closer to home, year-on-year more people join, but there are not many more European countries left. We are starting to connect places from the former Soviet Union, such as Ukraine and Belarus, but while the European side grows slowly, other parts in the world are joining fast.”
The growing network and increasing capacity shows the change in the academic world of more collaboration and bigger projects; something Enrico and his team are keen to support.
“With CERN and its search for the Higgs Boson, there was lots of data collected in Geneva but then distributed to centres around the world,” he says. “It just reflects how big science has become a global enterprise.”