Otago claims credit for ‘next-gen internet’

Work began on a next-generation research and education network long before the government got on board, says university director

One of the prime movers behind the high-capacity science and education network, known as KAREN (Kiwi Advanced Research and Education Network), is incredulous over what he sees as an attempt by the Ministry of Research Science and Technology (MoRST) to claim much of the credit for the network.

Otago University’s assistant director of Information Services, Neil James, who was behind much of the early thinking on the “next-generation internet” concept in New Zealand, says work began on a next-generation research and education (R&E) network long before the government got on board.

“I first started my journey towards re-establishing an R&E network presence for NZ in March 2000, and wrote a report that went to the relevant ministers later that year [to which Steve Maharey replied],” he says.

“The start of real progress came with the Industry NZ e-Vision breakfast on 24 July 2001, organised by John Houlker [now of NZ Trade and Industry] and Simon Riley [of NetImpact], where they asked me to speak. On August 3, an InternetNZ ‘Internet2 Steering Group’ was formed, which I was asked to chair.

“This group worked towards establishing the Capability Study that ultimately produced [the InternetNZ report] ‘Collaborating at Speed’, which, in turn led to the establishment of NGI-NZ.”

A report cited by James shows, as he says, that “we were well on the way long before Rita Calwell’s visit.”

This visit, by a representative of the US National Science Institute, was marked by MoRST spokesman Gavin Brownlie as the beginning of the high-speed network plan that became KAREN. I myself presented at MoRST, to people from MoRST, FoRST and other government agencies, on the requirement for an advanced network for R&E, on February 4, 2002 — long before Rita Calwell’s visit.”

The aforementioned report, dated December 13, 2001, clearly identifies the need for a high-speed network, to link with those overseas, with access to advanced research resources (both instruments and databases) as its principal value. It says sufficient fibre-optic cable is already in place and calls for an initial capability study.

“It would be good to have the opportunity to set the record straight,” James says. “I [and others, too] am very disappointed that at the launch of KAREN all credit was given to MoRST and no mention was made of the work of InternetNZ and NGI-NZ, when, in fact, MoRST [was] slow in understanding the requirements.

“When I met John Hood [ex vice-chancellor of Auckland University], in February 2002, to brief him about the need for an advanced network for research and education, he said he thought that MoRST should be leading the work in establishing the advanced network and he didn’t understand why it wasn’t.”

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