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Europe calling: Innovation at GÉANT

Speed read
  • GÉANT invested €3.3 million ($3.79m) in Open Call program.
  • Open Call injects new ideas, new blood, breeds innovation.
  • 75% of the projects continue in some form-- a mark of the project's success.

The Internet2 Tech Exchange is a marketplace for national research and education network (NREN) solutions. Network engineers, computer scientists, and technical types come from around the world to share progress and exchange ideas. Michael Enrico, chief technology officer for GÉANT and Annabel Grant, senior business development officer presented at this year’s Tech Ex in Cleveland Ohio, US to celebrate the recent success of GÉANT’s Open Call program.

As Europe’s leading collaboration on e-infrastructure for research and education, one of GÉANT’s key roles is to interconnect NRENs with high quality networking services, together connecting over 50 million users across 10,000 institutions such as universities, research institutes, and in some regions even primary and secondary schools. All of this is helping to bolster Europe’s economic health and promote open science. Of course it’s not just Europe – GÉANT is known for its extensive global connectivity as well, reaching over 65 countries beyond Europe thanks to strong relationships with, for example, Internet2.

GÉANT's global reach connects users in over 100 countries worldwide, enabling scientists and academics in Europe to exchange data and collaborate with their peers across the world. Courtesy GÉANT.

The Open Call initiative is an outgrowth of GÉANT’s larger innovation program. A common requirement for many projects funded by the European Commission (EC), the Open Call is a mechanism for bringing in new partners and generating new ideas. For the period April 2013 to 2015, the EC directed GÉANT to invest half of its research and technology development budget — about €3.3 million ($3.79m) — on the Open Call to augment existing GÉANT research.

“It really goes without saying, but innovation is critical for GÉANT,” adds Enrico. “If we want to maintain and enhance our capacity to innovate, it’s essential to generate new ideas and bring new, additional expertise into the community.”

GÉANT advertised their Open Call in early 2013. They then selected 21 (out of 70) submissions to conduct research in the areas of Applications and Tools, Authentication, Network Architecture and Optical Projects, and Software Defined Networking. Universities were the primary beneficiaries, and each project had between two to four collaborative partners. The Open Call wrapped up in the spring of 2015.

Open Call All-Stars

  • DREAMER makes SDN controllers more available and supports networks where these controllers can coexist with conventional network control planes. DREAMER contributed improvements to the open-source Open Network Operating System (ONOS) being developed by the Open Networking Laboratory.
  • DynPac uses SDN capabilities to deliver and enhance established network services like Ethernet virtual leased lines and more complex virtual private network services.
  • GÉANT Trustbroker, one of the trust and identity related Open Call projects, focuses on the development of protocols and new federation services to enable ‘technical trust’ between Identity Providers and Service Providers.

“A key factor contributing to the success of our Open Call program was the effort we put into integrating the Open Call participants and their efforts into the existing GÉANT activities,” Grant says. “This was done both in terms of dovetailing the respective work programs and facilitating effective communication and collaborative working between the respective experts.”

The Open Call primarily benefited GÉANT by increasing access to its infrastructure and facilities and by raising awareness of its services. In the 18 months of the Open Call program, over 40 scientific papers, three Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) drafts, and presentations at over 100 events served to promote GÉANT’s abilities. Perhaps the chief metric of the Open Call’s success is seen in the fact that 75% of the projects have continued in some form beyond the funding program.

“Some of that is being adopted by the GÉANT project, while other outcomes in the Software Defined Networking (SDN) activities and in the trust and identity-related projects are now being assessed,” Enrico says.

International clock comparisons via optics fiber (ICOF) is one of the projects enabled by GÉANT's Open Call. ICOF used long haul telecommunications fiber to support metrological comparisons of very accurate atomic clocks. Since the Open Call project concluded, partners have assumed the fiber lease. Courtesy GÉANT.

Enrico adds “Even the more ‘blue sky’ or academic projects, though they may not necessarily continue, were quite prolific at producing publications and participating in standards bodies like the IETF.”

Grant agrees: “It is difficult to quantify, but in respect to the amount of innovation generated compared to what we would have done without the Open Call — in terms of both bringing in new talent to the GÉANT project and strong outcomes — the Open Call proved to be a resounding success. The next Open Call is still in the formative stages, but is shaping up to be a joint program between GÉANT and other European e-infrastructures, with a focus on engagement with small to medium enterprises. If past performance is any indication, the Open Call may be an important component of GÉANT’s continuing success."

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