New Zealand’s belated high-bandwidth education and research network, now called Karen, could find itself a little short-changed in funding for development.
The need stretches from basic software to control individual users’ logon to expensive resources half a world away — a super-sized decentralised authentication mechanism — down to documentation on how to tune servers to work with the very different parameters of a high-speed dedicated network.
Implementers of overseas high-capacity research and education networks say an adequate capability development fund should be of the same order as the cost of the infrastructure, says a source close to the original planning for such a network.
Charles Jarvie of the network’s operation company, REANNZ acknowledges that the core capability development fund for Karen is less than $5 million over three years, compared with an infrastructure cost of $43 million. “Some would say” that equal funding is a more appropriate response, he acknowledges, but additional funding beyond the core is likely to flow in from bodies such as the Tertiary Education Commission and the Health Research Council, which will both be users of the network.
REANNZ also expects the capability development fund and ancillary funding to support exchange visits by overseas experts in the operation of high-speed networks and return visits overseas by New Zealanders.
“It’s very much a priming fund,” he says.
Karen, as has often been pointed out, catches New Zealand up with the 40 other countries that already have advanced networks for science and education. So how did we get so far behind? The stumble, Jarvie says, came in the mid 1990s, when the internet became a popular medium and the core infrastructure was turned over from the universities and research establishments, which had run it, to the major telcos.
In other countries, the universities “went straight on” to build their own special-purpose higher-capacity networks.
“In New Zealand, it fell off the radar for ten years,” and educational and scientific organisations were content to buy capacity from the telcos.
Old hands at the high-speed networking game are critical of the tendency to ascribe all the credit for Karen to the Ministry of Research Science and Technology (MoRST). Ministry spokesman Gavin Brownlie insisted “MoRST was the genesis of the idea,” and it can be dated, he says, to criticism of New Zealand’s laggardliness by Rita Caldwell, a director of the US National Science Foundation on a visit here for the Knowledge Wave conference in 2003.
This, critics say, ignores the birth of the Next Generation Internet (NGI-NZ) initiative, some months earlier, with the InternetNZ report “Collaborating at Speed; Innovation Infrastructure for a Knowledge Economy”, dated October 2002.