We often think of things that happen over the internet as happening in cyberspace, but data has to be moved around. In a wireless world moving towards 4G and beyond, it may seem strange that many intercontinental connections are still based on undersea cables, not dissimilar to those used for telegraph signals 150 years ago. However, the actual physical infrastructure (the network cables) no longer relies on copper cables but state-of-the-art optical fibres, which provide much more bandwidth and a reliable ‘backbone’ linking the major ‘nodes’ allowing researchers to collect, distribute and analyse data securely. You can see some of thee backbone here:
To move around the big data currently being embraced by researchers requires both infrastructure and the administrative coordination to enable it. GÉANT is the pan-European R&E network that transfers huge quantities of data (over a petabyte terabytes) for fields from radio-astronomy to medical research. In the past moving such large datasets may have taken days or would not have been possible, but now with high-bandwidth technology, transmission can take seconds. The GÉANT network is fundamental to the European Commission’s vision of providing equal opportunities and access for European researchers irrespective of their location within Europe.
GÉANT provides a huge 50,000 km network infrastructure across 44 routes. Potentially this vast network serves 40 million users, with 8000 institutions connected in 40 countries in Europe and 62 outside Europe.
Experience and knowledge gained from R&E networking in Europe can help to advance e-infrastructure and innovation across other global regions. Advice, case studies as well as best practices in areas such as technical support, are assisting networking partners in other regions. For developing countries, establishing an R&E network provides a framework for delivering on the United Nations anti-poverty Millennium Development Goals (health, climate, agriculture, education and the environment). It can also be one of the building blocks for creating an effective education system. Researchers in Sub-Saharan Africa have been connected to international networks via the AfricaConnect project since 2012. It is expected that many research areas will advance through the high-speed connectivity and supplementary services provided by networking. In the remote parts of Africa, researchers can benefit from distance learning and live videoconferencing, enhancing skills and knowledge in the local research community, thus unlocking Africa’s intellectual potential. In South Africa, e-Health and telemedicine, astronomy and physics are already actively exploiting the high performance network infrastructure.