Friday, May 20, 2011

Networking with the networkers

While the rest of the GridCast team have been over in Trieste, I've been spending the week in Prague at TNC2011. TNC2011, organised by TERENA, is all about networking. It's a topic I'm pretty new to so it's been a bit of a learning curve, but one thing is very evident. Networking is not just about cables.

Taking a quick look at the conference programme for this last week backs this up. Sessions ranged from the switch to IPV6 to privacy and anonymity. There's lots of great ideas and innovations coming out of this area - in one of the most popular talks of the week (from the Twitter comments anyway) Roland van Rijswijk of SURFnet demonstrated how we can use QR codes on websites such as online banks to provide a secure and simple way to authenticate users. Individuals simply take a photo of the QR code with their smart phone, enter a pin number into their phone and gain access to the site. What's even better is that the open source tiqr app, which enables all of this, is now free for download for both Android and iPhone so anybody can use and apply it to their own authentication.

This year's conference marks the 25th anniversary of TERENA - a period of time in which the internet has revolutionised many aspects of the way in which we work and live in unexpected ways. So naturally the question that's been on everybody's lips is - what do the next 25 years hold? I spent the first half of this week in NREN sessions (FYI an NREN is in charge of a country's national research and education network) where discussion about the changing roles of these bodies was a hot topic. Opinions differed but everyone agreed that users now don't just want connectivity - they're looking for an end-to-end service, and providers need to adapt to offer this. For example GÉANT's Autobahn service gives users an easy way to request dedicated bandwidth.

The e-infrastructure world is a very dynamic environment, thanks to increasing globalisation, distributed science and education costs, and the NRENs present at TNC2011 all agreed that if they're not able to react in time, they are in danger of being left behind. In fact, change was a key theme throughout the conference - none more so than in the excellent closing plenary talk given by John Wilbanks of Creative Commons. Like all of the TNC2011 sessions, John's talk can be watched in the online video archive. It's fairly lengthy, but definitely worth it. John argued that in the way content-led industries such as music and newspapers are finding themselves changing due to the way users now consume them, science and research are sure to follow. The internet has allowed this because of its simple, open common network approach, which lends itself to growth, and encourages a culture of sharing. And although sharing can sometimes be seen as a bad thing, it's something we're inherently driven to do and drives innovation, reuse, and social benefit.

Ultimately this is what Europe's e-infrastructures have been set up to do - to share research, data and ideas. So while, from an outsider's perspective, it may seem like it's all about technology and cables, those in the know realise it's actually just about connecting people.

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