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Upgrading the Janet Network

Jeremy Sharp

Your world-class Janet Network is getting a boost. Jeremy Sharp, our Janet infrastructure director, explains what is going to happen and why.

Janet has been serving research and education for more than 30 years. Over that time we’ve consistently seen traffic across the network double every eighteen months to two years, making the Janet Network one of the busiest national research and education networks (NRENs) in the world in terms of the data we carry.

That’s certainly because more and more users are using the network but it’s also due to the evolution of networked applications and the richness of what they can do.

The Janet Network is business critical to our members – we, and you, now regard it as a utility, like having power or water to the building.

Why we're upgrading

The UK has a world-class reputation for the quality of both its education and research capability, which the Janet Network plays a vital role in maintaining and strengthening.

So it is essential that all Janet Network users are provided with the leading-edge, highly reliable network services that will support their individual missions, whether in learning, teaching or research.

That’s why, starting this year and continuing over the next three to five years, we are investing in a huge upgrade that will include using the latest 400Gbit/s optical channel technology in the backbone and replacing legacy infrastructure in the regional networks.

What’s changed in the last five years?

The last major upgrade, which resulted in the current Janet Network backbone network delivering world-leading advanced networking services to education and research, was completed in 2013.

The landscape has changed in the last five years in ways that we need to recognise and address.

Cyber security concerns

There has been a swift and ever more alarming rise in cybercrime, making cyber security a key concern for us all. We have invested in systems to protect the Janet Network and connected members from denial of service attacks, and we have also grown the portfolio of security services and capability.

Institutions increasingly need to move and look after sensitive data in an assured way, whether for research or the student data used for personalised teaching and analytics, and we have collaborated with a number of leading UK universities to provide higher assurance connectivity over the Janet Network and access management mechanisms between research centres.

Bandwidth demand through open science

The rapid development of open science means that the network is being used in exciting – and bandwidth heavy – ways for cooperative work and information distribution using advanced technologies and collaborative tools.

Increased use of cloud services

The use of cloud services and external data centres has shot up remarkably quickly in the last five years, along with the use of personal mobile devices, bringing with it an “any place, anytime” network connectivity requirement. This means that the network's reach beyond the traditional campus environment is important.

Building on the success of eduroam, which provides seamless access through a single wifi profile regardless of location, we have used the same technology in govroam so that the public sector can also benefit from easy roaming internet access across multiple locations.

Boosting the backbone

Janet has evolved since the 1990s so that we have a large core network that spans the UK, formed of a backbone network and 18 regional networks that connect to that backbone and provide the connectivity to end sites.

This summer, we are boosting the bandwidth of the backbone to as much as 600Gbit/s, using Ciena’s new 400Gbit/s technology powered with WaveLogic Ai coherent optics. WaveLogic Ai enables us to operate efficiently, and accurately engineer the network for optimal capacity to manage massive flows from new data-intensive research activities.

New access infrastructure

Around two years ago we completed bringing the regional networks in house to take control and responsibility for delivering our regional infrastructures.

Those networks had previously been managed by various consortia of universities, which had resulted in a diversity of provision and builds.

Taking central control saved money and has allowed us to take a coherent, consistent approach to all aspects of building and operating the network.

We are embarking on a three to four year programme to replace those regional networks, reducing the running costs and creating a unified architecture across the network. This will allow us to deliver services to you more quickly and flexibly. We will also be able to scale bandwidth and capacity more efficiently.

With a more coherent architecture – a backbone network connecting into an access infrastructure to sites – it becomes much easier to deploy services end to end.

It also allows us to deploy the latest technologies in a more agile way, whether that’s automating a lot of network provisioning – software defined networking – or virtualising network functions, such as end users’ firewall services.

What does this mean for you?

Our success in doing this is that you will see no service disruption and continue to enjoy a very high-quality internet experience through the Janet Network.

Over time it makes us more efficient and able to deliver your new services more quickly.

Last year we worked with our first university member requesting access to Microsoft Azure using Microsoft’s ExpressRoute connectivity service. It was quite a challenge to put that in place across the current diverse regional infrastructure. In future, we’ll have the tools and capability already there to deploy that kind of service much more quickly.

Also, if your site needs an upgrade we’ll be able to shorten the delivery times and, ideally, make it zero touch – giving you extra capacity through a software configuration rather than lots of engineers going to site and putting in more equipment.

Cyber security is a concern for us all and, as we move to the new access infrastructure, security will be implicit in that architecture. The rebuild is a real opportunity to embed the tools we need to better protect your network and network services.

We know from the requirements gathering work we did with you, while planning this upgrade, that it is crucial that the Janet Network, as a mission critical service, is highly reliable. It also needs to be flexible to meet future demand and more agile in dealing with change.

We are confident that this work will meet those requirements and ensure that the Janet Network continues to be world class.