Monday, May 20, 2013

National Research and Education Network

A. K. M. Habibur Rahman*

1.    Introduction

National Research and Education Networks (NRENs) have existed since the early days of the Internet. This type of network is now emerging in countries, whether developing or least developed, around the world. During the passage of time, changes in concept, structure, technology, and connectivity has been changed and in the present days NRENs provide key infrastructure to facilitate collaborative research among the academic users within and outside the country through dedicated connectivity.

2.    Evolution of REN

Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) published a Request for Comments (RFC): 1167 titled ‘Thoughts on the National Research and Education Network’ on July 1990 written by Vinton G. Cerf of Corporation for National Research Initiatives, USA. The RFC document provided a brief outline of National Research and Education Network (NREN) primarily focused on the developments in the USA. Another article having title “The National Research and Education Network: An Idea Whose Time Has Come” was published in the Journal of Information Systems Education, Spring 1994 issue by Professor Judy A. Hill of Purdue University Calumet. The article described evolution, growth, funding, and legislative support of NREN in the USA. According to Prof. Judy, the first stage of NREN growth consists of network development in the 1970s. The networks available at that time were ARPANET, BITNET and CSNET. Later on, BITNET and CSNET were combined into the Corporation for Research and Education Networking (CREN) in 1989. Side-by-side, NRENs have been emerging in other countries/regions and continue to emerge till today.

3.    NREN Interconnections

To strengthen the collaboration among researchers and academia, RENs have been interconnected on a bilateral, regional or global scale. Global integration among RENs is possible due to the development of regional networks during the past two decades. NREN maintains a dedicated interconnection with a recognized regional research and education network, through which the NREN enjoys REN connectivity globally. In Europe the NRENs are connected through GEANT/GEANT2, in southern and western Africa the UbuntuNet Alliance and in Asia through TEIN. Despite some challenges, there are numerous benefits to interconnecting NRENs, beyond the obvious extension in the base of researchers for collaborations. The remarkable benefits may include (1) harmonizing network technologies, interfaces and management, (2) possibilities for enhanced services provision and (3) leveraging of investments. A list of selected regional networks is presented in the table.

4.    Benefits of REN

Many extraordinary and exclusive services are being provided by the NRENs. Some of the benefits offered by the NRENs are enumerated below:
  • Offer public Internet connectivity (also known as commodity Internet connectivity) to their participating institutions.
  • Provide a way for the research and education community of a country or region to pool its resources
  • Provide access to more and better capabilities than can be obtained individually, often resulting in lower costs for individual institutions.
  • Provide a way to share access to expensive scientific instruments, digital collections of research materials, and faculty and classes via high-quality video-conferencing particularly in countries where educational and research resources are scarce.
  • Develop new services and applications, which can be adopted in other domains, that cannot be easily implemented by ISPs.

5.    REN VS ISP

We have already known that NRENs came into being at a time when networked data communications were not generally offered commercially. The NRENs and research users’ community became skilled at developing the technology and services and finding ways of using those innovatively for supporting the education and research activities. Although cutting edge industrial research leads to new innovations but  Internet innovation is still undertaken within the education and research community.

Commercial ISPs do not have sufficient motivation to reach the level of innovation needed by the education and research community. Whilst it may be arguable that some advanced ISPs may be able to offer some NREN core services at a price that is lower than the NREN’s, careful account must be taken of the true costs of relying on externally provided services which may not provide the full range of facilities that the community requires. In addition, uptake of such commercial services would result in the dilution of the community-led innovation that has been seen in the past.

NRENs’ mission are to serve exclusively and on a not-for-profit basis which distinguishes them from the commercial ISPs.

When two RENs exchange route announcements, neither REN ever announces to the other REN a route that it has learned from a border router of a commodity ISP or other non-REN operator. This is a key tenet of REN Internet practice, and ensures that the Global REN remains dedicated to traffic passing between true NRENs.

NRENs are highly specialized in meeting the researchers’ needs, including cases where there is a need for tailor-made solutions and for the adoption of still under development technologies.

NRENs also closely collaborate with each other to define common specifications for developing new technologies and services to facilitate deployment in a true end-to-end environment whenever they are eventually offered to users.

6.    REN Initiatives in Bangladesh

There were two past initiatives to establish multi-institutional education/research network in Bangladesh. The first one Bangladesh Education and Research Network (BERNET) was tried in 1997 by UGC. Another initiative was taken by BANSDOC to set up a dial-up online network connection named as Bangladesh National Scientific and Library Information Network (BANSLINK) in 1998. The main objective of the BANSLINK was to pool all the national information resources on the Internet to ensure maximum use and application of the limited resources in right time to the right user. Unfortunately, both could not sustain and ultimately failed. At this backdrop, Prof. Dr. Javed I. Khan of Kent State University conducted a background study sponsored by Fulbright Program, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, USA and submitted the report “Perspectives into the Modernization of Higher Education System: Worldwide Emergence of Research and Education Networks and a Proposal for Bangladesh” on February 21, 2006. Later on, he continued his initiatives and presented Cases of Research and Education Network (REN) Initiatives: BDREN and A New Era in Bangladesh Higher Education in11th International Conference on Computer and Information Technology, held in Khulna, Bangladesh in 2008.

A World Bank higher education mission visited Bangladesh in September and November, 2007. This mission is a continuation of the earlier short mission fielded in July 2007. The objective of the missions was to follow up on the request by the GOB to the World Bank to support Higher Education in Bangladesh. More specifically, the mission’s mandate was to work with the Ministry of Education and the University Grants Commission on the preparation of a proposed Higher Education Quality Enhancement Project. An IDA Project team carried out a mission in August 2008 on the above-mentioned proposed project which was later upgraded to Appraisal Mission after concurrence of the GOB and the World Bank. Prof. Javed I. Khan was a member of the mission as Consultant. Finally, the HEQEP was taken in the 4th quarter of 2008. One of the major components of HEQEP was “Raising the Connectivity Capacity of the Higher Education Sector” which includes the establishment of a Bangladesh Research and Education Network (BdREN).

  • Building and operating a high bandwidth high availability secure network;
  • Delivering networking excellence capitalizing on the latest technological development in networking;
  • Providing cost-effective & best in-class Applications and Services through economies of scale’;
  • Connecting to International RENs, such as APAN, TEIN3, Internet2, Geant2 and participating to other world-wide NRENs associations, initiatives and forums;
  • Attracting NRB scientists, engineers and researchers working in different disciplines from all over the world;

BdREN consists of the two main sub-systems- Transmission Network System running over PGCB OPGW and IP/Data Network System and three value added sub-systems - Data Center, Applications and Network Operations Center , Video Conferencing System and Unified Communications Systems

BdREN’s countrywide network has been designed based on the dark fiber (Optical Ground Wire, OPGW) network of Power Grid Company of Bangladesh (PGCB). Under an IRU agreement, BdREN/UGC will enjoy the right to use of one pair of dark fiber up to each Substation/ Endpoint of PGCB throughout the country for 20 years. The last mile connectivity / local loop from the PGCB endpoints (Substations) to the Universities and/or PoP (Point of Presences) shall be dark optical fiber of BdREN/leased fiber from the NTTN operator. The network under construction will be a completely new dynamic ROADM enabled DWDM-based network over OPGW. The network will primarily be used to build an IP / MPLS network for connecting all the Universities of the country on top of it to establish BdREN.

BdREN is a multi-tier network divided into three basic layers - Core, Distribution, and Access. BdREN typically has 2 Cores at Dhaka. The main core is at UGC Building and the Disaster Recovery Center at BUET. There will be 8 Distribution PoPs spread over 5 zone in the whole network coverage area. The distribution PoPs are shown in the table.

BdREN will have multiple peering connectivity with International Internet Gateways (IIGs). It shall also have peering with regional academic network e.g. TEIN network. Initially the commodity Internet shall be connected with both UGC Internet Gateway Router and BUET Internet Gateway Router, while the TEIN 3 connectivity shall be with only UGC core network. 

The distribution PoPs will have dual 10G connectivity with core network. Client universities shall be connected to the nearest distribution PoPs with 1G link. Some universities shall be connected to the network by a daisy chain, or ring type of connectivity wherever possible. The network topology of BdREN and logical connectivity of the Public Universities are depicted in the Figure-1 and Figure-2 respectively.

A Data Center with Disaster Recovery Center (DR) will be built. Data Center shall be located at UGC Building whereas the DR center shall be located at BUET. The data center shall be equipped with all necessary facilities for a standard TIER 3 Data Center where servers & storage facilities for various  applications will be housed. It shall also provide space for housing servers/ racks     and / or applications.

Figure-1: BdREN Network Architecture (Single Line Diagram)

To enable the students, teachers and researchers share and participate in remote both live and recorded lectures, classes and conferences to disseminate knowledge and experience both within the country and abroad, Each University will be equipped one classroom with all modern video conferencing facilities which can be termed as “Virtual Class Rooms”. Unified communication system comprises of an IP PABX and Unified messaging System. The IP PABX will play a key

role for smooth operation of BdREN through instant communications between the users. In the Unified Messaging System, the users shall have distributed voice mail system integrated with the messaging network so that designated users can use the voice mail and unified messaging capability.

6.3  BdREN in Action

In the first phase, it was planned to start the BdREN operation consisting of connectivity with six universities e.g. Dhaka University (DU), Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET), Jahangirnagar University (JU), Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU), North South University (NSU) and Sher-E-Bangla Agricultural University (SAU) and University Grants Commission (UGC). After an IRU (Indefeasible Rights of Use) agreement with Power Grid Company of Bangladesh for use of one pair of fibers in its countrywide OPGW network, this pilot network has been established. The pilot network is running with 60 Mbps bandwidth through BTCL IIG.

 6.4   BdREN Connectivity with TEIN

Trans-Eurasia Information Network (TEIN) provides a dedicated high-capacity Internet network between research and education communities in the Asia Pacific region. It operates at speeds of up to 2.5 Gbps with PoP in India, Singapore, China and NOC at Hong Kong. It has connectivity with westbound links to GÉANT, its pan-European counterpart @ 2.5 Gbps and with North America @ 10 Gbps. BdREN has been connected with TEIN under TEIN3 project by IPLC having capacity of 45 Mbps. TEIN3 currently interconnects universities and research centers in China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Vietnam, Australia, Bangladesh and most recently Cambodia.  The connectivity diagram can be found in the link- After successful completion of TEIN3 project, the new phase, TEIN4 was transferred to the TEIN* Cooperation Center (TEIN*CC) in September 2012, which was established by the Korean government to continue to develop the network up to 2016 with DANTE support. TEIN will continue to receive funding support from the European Commission which is contributing €8 million for TEIN4 phase.

7.0  Conclusion

Like other RENs in Asia such as AARNet (Australia), PERN (Pakistan), VinaREN (Vietnam), SingAREN (Singapore), ERNET (India), LEARN (SriLanka), MyREN (Malaysia), the full-fledged BdREN is going to be established by 2014 connecting all public universities through dark fiber to the nearest PGCB point of interconnection, which has been designed as the backbone of the BdREN. There will be required facilities in the regional/distribution PoPs for connecting other private universities and research organizations. Bandwidth for commercial internet through IIGs will be increased as the universities are connected to BdREN and capacity of TEIN connectivity will also be augmented as required. To comply the management and governance practices of NRENs worldwide, BdREN will be managed by a not-for-profit Trust organization.

* Director, BTCL (Currently working as CEO, BdREN on Lien)

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