Saturday, March 31, 2012

European study (Terena) on the Future Role of R&E Networks and financial sustainability - ASPIRE.

[I am pleased to see Europe, under the auspices of Terena is undertaking an in depth study of the future role of research and education networks.
To my mind R&E networks will continue to play a critical role not only in serving the needs of the research and education community, but in also in defining new innovative services as well as Internet and broadband business models that don’t require incumbent monopoly solutions.

It was the R&E networks that introduced many innovations including the Internet itself, but also the web and infrastructure innovation like customer owned dark fiber, condominium fiber, optical Internet exchange points, software defined networks, green IT, wireless roaming etc.

However, in the age of global financial constraint R&E networks have to face reality. With nearly bankrupt governments, aging population and health care consuming more public dollars there is going to be less money in the coming years for higher-ed and networking. No matter how great a job they are doing R&E networks are going to have to expect less and less money from government. Most R&E networks today are operationally self sufficient from membership fees etc, and only look to government for financing of innovation and/or capital projects. . Some innovative networks like AARnet, Internet 2, NORDunet, SURFnet etc already substantially independent of government funding, except for some small programs for innovation, etc. In future all networks are going to increasingly have to look to their connected institutions to underwrite a substantial portion of the network costs. As you can see from the Terena ASPIRE study, many forward looking R&E networks are already developing strategies to deal with a future of little or no government funding.

Unfortunately, most education and research institutions are also under financial stress and cannot forward higher fees. So R&E networks are going to have to find innovative solutions that not only reduce costs for their members, but also provide new revenue opportunities for the network itself. Sometimes financial necessity can be the mother of invention. A good example is content networking and peering. This dramatically reduces Internet costs for connected institutions and enables a new business model that avoids the old mindset of dollars per megabyte. NORDUnet, AARnet and Internet2 has been exemplary leaders in this regard. If all global R&E networks worked together they could represent themselves as a global Tier 1 network and virtually eliminate transit fees through a content and peering strategy.

R&E networks are going to have work closely with their connected institutions to develop coordinate cyber-infrastructure solutions. Two institutions that are great example of this strategy is Cal_IT2 and Indiana U (it helps that the president was a former CIO). But R&E networks and governments can also help promote these developments by supporting energy and green revolving funds to underwrite many of the costs of developing commercial cloud and cyber-infrastructure solutions. UK government and JISC are doing some innovative work in this area of promoting use of revolving funds.

Brokered commercial clouds, outsourcing campus IT, mobile services, “research as a service”, collaborative eScience platforms, green IT, industrial incubation, community anchor institutions, deploying next generation broadband and broadband transit exchanges are other innovation examples that have potential to generate revenue for R&E networks. The ASPIRE team will be looking at many of these ideas in their study. The final report will be out in June, but I encourage those interested to read the paper on the ASPIRE study topics– BSA]

Terena ASPIRE study

ASPIRE study topics

Strategic IT Direction for Universities – cyber-infrastructure solutions for institutions