If we want to be a world-leading research economy, we need a world-leading research network says Tim Marshall the executive director of Jisc technologies which includes Janet.
For a nation of its size, the UK has punched well above its weight in the number and quality of its research outputs. But this is no time for complacency. And the nation’s economic prosperity requires that we continue to build on this.
After all, unlike some of our competitors, we don’t have much in the way of commodities to sell – the country no longer has rich mineral reserves. On the manufacturing front there are signs of regeneration and success, particularly in automotive, aerospace and advanced digital software and hardware, but the service sector – which we have relied on in recent years – could easily run out of steam.
For these reasons it is all the more important that we have a world-class research base, jobs and expertise, much of which is being attracted here. Just next to Janet’s premises at Harwell near Oxford, we can find the De Beers industrial diamond research facility, CERN’s critical research hub in the UK and the European Space Agency (ESA) to name just a few.
“…we must continue to develop the network in advance of current levels of need, particularly ahead of commodity networks, so that when researchers pitch their proposals to funders, they can say confidently that the advanced network capacity and capabilities already exist.”
Tim Marshall, executive director of Jisc technologies which includes Janet
Technology has a leading part to play in supporting and developing UK HE’s research ambitions and it is at the heart of Jisc’s advanced network, Janet is already among the world’s fastest and most capable research and education networks and it represents Jisc’s biggest ongoing investment. It enables super-fast, super-secure data transfer so that researchers can share knowledge efficiently, effectively and easily. It has the power to join up researchers working all over the globe and to connect them to industry research partners.
Consequently, we’ve continued to make it a priority for investment despite cuts to our own budgets and we’ve developed our future funding plans to make sure this investment continues. I really believe that we must continue to develop the network in advance of current levels of need, particularly ahead of commodity networks, so that when researchers pitch their proposals to funders, they can say confidently that the advanced network capacity and capabilities already exist.
The Janet network
Jisc’s network Janet connects UK universities, FE colleges, research councils, specialist colleges and adult and community learning providers, each using the network to support their particular research and teaching strategies.
Royal Holloway, University of London uses Janet extensively. Principal professor Paul Layzell explains:
"Janet is a crucial piece of our research infrastructure that supports our experimental particle physics group working on the ATLAS project at the Large Hadron Collider studying the Higgs boson, searching for new exotic particles and the study of the top quark. Our Janet connection also allows research groups to participate in the many virtual research meetings taking place around the world using high quality video conferencing, enabling our researchers to punch about their weight in terms of international engagement.
As one of the world’s leading centres for information and cyber security, we are fully aware of the threat to our day-to-day business from cyber-attack. We value greatly the Janet Computer Security and Incident Response Team (CSIRT) service delivering professional security knowledge and supporting our In-house security team. These services improve our awareness of current security threats, assist in dealing with current incidents and vulnerabilities including monitoring and blocking threats to Royal Holloway.
In addition, Janet Education Shared Information Security Service (ESISS) helps in the proactive protection of our institution, providing services for vulnerability scanning to assist with audit compliance and cyber security compliance.”
Enabling education for everyone
That’s the high-end stuff, but Janet and other educational technologies are also about enabling and improving the day in, day out realities of mass education. HE and FE teaching increasingly need the high bandwidth connectivity that Janet provides. Teachers’ roles are evolving towards providing a more individual, higher quality learning experience for students. They are becoming more about mentoring and enabling than about merely passing on information – technology can step into that gap, especially for students who are studying remotely.
Earlier still in a learner’s life, technology is now being used routinely to engage school children about a range of subjects from science to theatre, through video conferences led by gifted teachers, academics and researchers, describing new ideas and demonstrating exciting skills and experiments. They are a world away from the day to day lessons offered in some schools and can really help children to think afresh about why they might want to study hard in a subject. Ones that could seem hard, dull or just a bit removed from real life.
Keeping the technology not just up-to-date but actually ahead of the curve takes investment but it’s worth it. We’re committed to it – and not only because it can help to improve the learner’s experience and facilitate research.
“IT managers can let go of the notion of investing in their own infrastructure and simply buy more or less capacity as they need it. That will be more cost-effective and also mean that they don’t need to worry about their own technology becoming outdated.”
Tim Marshall, Executive director of Jisc technologies which includes Janet
One of the big developments that I can see for the immediate future is that IT managers will take the plunge and accept that they no longer need to invest in all the latest technology for themselves. At the moment people find reassurance in the fact that they can see, touch and smell their institution’s own servers, just as librarians and book-lovers still often feel an attachment to traditional books in preference to e-books.
But advanced networking means that, more and more, individual colleges and universities would be better served – financially and technically – if they changed their thinking. The network capacity we’re continuing to build into Janet can offer them much more flexibility.
IT managers can let go of the notion of investing in their own infrastructure and simply buy more or less capacity as they need it. That will be more cost-effective and also mean that they don’t need to worry about their own technology becoming outdated. We’re committing resources to keeping our technology at the leading edge.
The development of Janet6 makes this a more compelling offer. For the first time, we have acquired a dark fibre network configured to our precise specification and we now operate it ourselves, avoiding the punitive costs of change with a managed service. It is more resilient than ever before and adapts automatically so that, if a problem occurs, the traffic can be re-routed without any loss of service or functionality to users.
They would simply never know that there is a problem but we do and – like Bob the Builder – we will fix it. Janet6 is right up there with the very best in the world and we are keeping the development momentum going via ongoing work to boost speeds to unprecedented levels.
I’m confident that the network offers users speed and high levels of resilience and security that they simply couldn’t afford to buy and maintain working alone – and that it will be a key factor in driving forwards the UK’s knowledge economy.
This article originally featured in issue 39 of Jisc Inform (UK web archive)