Advanced network to be self-funding

KAREN aims to be paying for itself through membership fees in four years

The Kiwi Advanced Research and Education Network (KAREN) is to become self-sustaining, paying for itself through membership fees.

Julie Watson, communities manager of Research and Education Advanced Network New Zealand (REANNZ), the Crown company that runs the network, says that goal should be reached in about four years.

The network, which went live on December 15, was built with a $43 million grant from the government. However, the core capability development fund for KAREN is less than $5 million over three years, Charles Jarvie, development manager of REANNZ told Computerworld last year.

At the moment funding is not a challenge, says Watson, who would not disclose membership fees as these are confidential to each member.

KAREN boasts 17 members so far — eight universities and nine crown research institutes. It is up to the members to make sure they have the right routers and switches to support the network, which uses 9000-byte jumbo frame packets. Members also need to have IPv4 or IPv6 address spaces.

The plan is that all of New Zealand’s schools, polytechnics, libraries, museums and private research institutes will become KAREN members, says Watson. The real challenge now is to assist people build capability and start using the network, she says.

The KAREN website is also about to get some new features. At the end of this month, members will be able to form communities with their own, dedicated online space.

It is a cultural change for researchers and educators to move into the field of e-research, using high-speed broadband, says Watson.

The community-specific spaces on the website will for example allow users to make contact with people doing similar research or to discuss ideas, perhaps making that shift a little bit easier.

A few community sites are already lined up, including a video-conferencing sub-site, a middleware sub-site, a high performance computing sub-site and a school community site, says Watson.

Data can be transferred through KAREN at up to 10Gbit/s. The network does not carry the commodity internet, it peers with other research and education networks across the world, says Watson. There are similar networks in 40 other countries, for example JANET in the UK, Internet2 in the US and CAnet4 in Canada.

One of the members using KAREN is the NZNEES@Auckland (New Zealand Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulations) at the University of Auckland’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. The network is part of a similar network in the US, the George E Brown Jr. Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulations (NEES).

Experiments in the earthquake simulation field are very expensive, says Quincy Ma, lecturer at the university department.

“It could [involve] using very large scale shaking tables, which you can build a real size multi-story building on, and shake its base to imitate an earthquake, or tsunami wave basins that can replicate the effect of a tsunami,” he says.

But with the help of KAREN, NZNEES and NEES use telepresence technologies, allowing researchers to collaborate, have access to and even directly control these experiments remotely.

“KAREN really has enhanced the way we can do things,” says Ma. “It has given us the opportunity to interact with leading universities and to get back in the game; New Zealand used to be leading in earthquake research, but countries like the US and Japan have taken over because of the resources they have.”

Last year, a three-day experiment was conducted at the University of Minnesota and it took Ma five days to download the 150GB data files using the connection he had then.

“With KAREN we could have done it in eight hours,” he says.

KAREN’s improved data transfer rate has also given NZNEES the opportunity to do a new type of earthquake testing — distributed hybrid testing.

“This is where we conduct physical testing of only parts of a structure, and then by using real time transfer of the physical test data and a computer model, we stitch the results together to get the response of a whole structure,” he says.

In addition, KAREN facilitates a national storage grid; in effect an unlimited storage facility for researchers, he says. NZNEES is using 2TB of this storage.

The NZNEES@Auckland is developing a mobile field laboratory (MFL) which will make use of high power outdoor wireless networks to collect sensor data, such as floor accelerations or sways, says Ma. The data will be transferred back to the MFL and then transmitted to the university LAN via a satellite connection. From there, the data can be broadcasted nationally and internationally through KAREN, he says.

“We are only just embarking on this part of the project, but we will be conducting a pilot study shaking and measuring the vibrations on [Auckland’s] Wellesley Street East footbridge during the first half of April,” he says.

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