New Cyber-Infrastructure project takes shape

The South African National Research Network (SANReN), a major research infrastructure initiative from the Department of Science and Technology, is commencing with its national implementation phase after detailed planning and subsequent proof of concept phases.

SANReN was announced by the Minister of Science and Technology, Mr Mosibudi Mangena, in the 2006 budget speech. It forms a key pillar of the DST-driven national cyber infrastructure initiative together with the recently established Centre for High Performance Computing (CHPC).

The Meraka Institute is responsible for the implementation and management of both SANReN and the CHPC. The institute is a national research centre managed by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research.

“These two major information and communications technology initiatives play a key role in putting South Africa on the brink of an exciting chapter in research infrastructures that enable relevant, cutting-edge science for the enhancement of our global competitiveness and quality of life,” explains Johan Eksteen, Technology Research Programme Manager at the Meraka Institute.

“We see infrastructure as an integral ingredient towards the development of a world-class science and technology landscape,” he comments.

The network design is done in collaboration with the Tertiary Education Network (TENET), key technology providers and telecommunications operators. Input is obtained from the research community, relevant metropolitan councils and provincial and national government departments.

Guidance from international bodies, such as the Delivery of Advanced network Technology to Europe (DANTE) – which is responsible to the European Commission for the implementation of the pan-European research network (GeANT) – has proved to be invaluable.

The design is based on the establishment of an overall national network linking core nodes in Pretoria, Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban. Each of the main centres will be provided with local ring networks. These ring networks have been designed to allow easy access to the core network by all SANReN and TENET sites as well as many potential sites. Other sites will be connected to these core sites.

“In contrast to most commodity or commercial networks currently implemented, this public-good research network is based on the provision of lit fibre (lambdas or wave lengths) obtained from licensed telecommunications operators, supplemented by fibre cable installed directly by SANReN or obtained from relevant metropolitan authorities,” says Eksteen.

“This approach is necessary to provide the gigabit per second and higher speeds required for research networking that is essential to empower our science community,” he says.

A formal Request For Proposal (RFP) will be issued to telecommunications providers in the following weeks for the provision of the national connectivity (lambdas) required for the national backbone.

While a number of national research sites will not have a dedicated connection to SANReN immediately, the network design allows for an easy extension to the main core network to be installed as and when required.

The first phase of the SANReN roll-out requires that the Johannesburg nodes and in particular, the collocated node at the Johannesburg Internet exchange (JINX), is installed and working by 31 March 2008 with most major research institutions connected by the end of 2008.

A small number of sites require significant fibre installations to be connected to the network; the projected completion of the national SANReN network is in 2009.

“We have already commenced with Interactions with individual research institutions and these discussions will continue,” Eksteen concludes.



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New Cyber-Infrastructure project takes shape