Networkshop is Jisc’s annual technical event, hosted each year by a higher education organisation in the UK. Aimed at network managers and technical staff, the conference provides a forum for discussion on the latest technologies bringing together expertise from all fields of networking.
Networkshop 43 was my sixth and possibly best experience of the annual event yet. In recent years I’ve had presenting duties throughout the week, which brings its own challenges and tends to take over the week. This year was different, I chaired an exhibitor session on the first day, but I was otherwise free of formal duties and able to fully embrace the conference as a delegate.
It was a great event, well attended by both delegates and exhibitors, and there was a real buzz throughout the week. The highlight for me was the opening plenary by Chris Lintott from the University of Oxford, ‘coping with the crowd: lessons from working with a million scientists’.
It’s easy to get lost in the day to day tasks involved in deploying and operating the network, so it was a genuine pleasure to be able to sit back and hear about the interesting ways the network is actually being used. For example it was fascinating to learn that the Janet network is being used for a citizen science project (also known as crowd sourcing) as a way of identifying the shape of galaxies throughout the universe.
It was fascinating to hear that the Janet network is being used for a citizen science project as a way of identifying the shape of galaxies throughout the universe.
Jisc shared data centre
There was also a lot of continued interest in a project I was heavily involved in - the Jisc shared data centre - the first shared data centre for medical and academic research in the UK. On the first day Spencer Lamb from Infinity (provider of the Jisc shared data centre) hosted an exhibitor session titled 'Jisc shared data centre – building a collaborative community for research and education.'
This involved a detailed description of the facility and the process Infinity went through with Jisc on the way to being selected as preferred supplier, as well as a video highlighting the benefits of the facility form each of the anchor tenants.
On the second day, Jeremy Sharp, Jisc’s director of strategic technologies chaired a session on data centres, in which Guy Morrell from the Francis Crick Institute (previously of University College London (UCL)) discussed how UCL used the Jisc data centre. Specifically this focussed on the challenges that came with connecting the facility back to the main UCL buildings in central London – something they’ve used the Janet network to achieve.
There was sufficient interest in this to warrant an additional 'Birds of a Feather' workshop session for people with particular interest in the subject to get together at the end of the day to share their thoughts about what had been discussed.
It was also interesting to hear from Charles Ewan from the Met Office on day three. I ran the project to deliver high bandwidth Janet connectivity to the Met Office so it was rewarding to hear about how the infrastructure is now being used to transmit large sets of weather and climate data across the UK and the world.
Aside from the formal programme, one of the real benefits to me is the people that attend Networkshop from our community of users. Whether it was the IT director who’s usually too busy to meet with, the network manager that I hadn’t been able to get hold of for a couple of weeks, or the supplier delivering the latest section of network infrastructure, they were all there in the same room at the same time.
It’s something of a captive audience and I couldn’t fail to find it perhaps the most lucrative working environment I’ve ever been a part of. You can’t put into words how productive it can be being in a room full of customers and suppliers.
My worries about a week away meaning I’d fall behind with ‘the day job’ were quickly eradicated as I found myself talking with all sorts of people about every aspect of the Janet network and the projects we are working on.
All in all it was a great week - interesting, thought provoking and productive. The feedback I received during the week was really positive and showed me yet again how much of a key event Networkshop is for the education and research community.