NZ drops behind in online research

A director for Australia's high-speed academic network has painted a somewhat discouraging picture of New Zealand's position in the online research world.

A director for Australia's high-speed academic network has painted a somewhat discouraging picture of New Zealand’s position in the online research world.

New Zealand internet pioneer John Houlker set the tone for a recent New Zealand visit by George McLaughlin, the international development director for Australian Academic and Research Network (AARNet).

Houlker, introducing McLaughlin, said this country was up with the play of international internet development in the 80s and early 90s, but had since been left behind by most of the international community, including Australia.

McLaughlin, speaking to New Zealand’s Next Generation Internet champions and representatives of government research funders, holds out the prospect of a potential Auckland peering point with AARnet, as part of a leg of the network that would link with the Pacific Northwestern Gigapop, a gigabit/s level point-of presence in Seattle, and potentially with a node in Los Angeles.

NGI head Tone Borren declines to speculate on the likelihood of such a node, or the funding for it, but says New Zealand’s internet must in some way link with AARnet and on to the international Internet2 network sooner rather than later.

AARNet was built for Australia’s academic community and more than 800,000 staff and students are currently linked into it by gigabit ethernet tails. It has deployed its own high-capacity link to the US.

The network provides collaborative working capabilities, including national and international videoconferencing, as well as access to Mirror, an extensive multi-terabyte database of course material and resources of bioinformatics data.

The network is part of an emerging “global cyber-infrastructure”, says McLaughlin. This has enabled worldwide collaborative research communities. Much cutting-edge research depends on access to expensive instruments.

AARNet typically charges users by data volume, at $A22 per gigabyte. The organisation is looking to further improvement in bandwidth as a member of the consortium building the multi-gigabit/s Grid and Next Generation Network (GrangeNet).

Attendees at the address, given at the end of May in Wellington, thought the subscription model favoured by GrangeNet would be more acceptable to New Zealand academic users.

While McLaughlin put the emphasis on research and education, it was clear from the meeting that local champions seek a broader range of applications for NGI, as detailed in their report of late last year.

There has been a change in the university model in the last decade, speakers from the floor emphasised. While universities co-operated in the 80s and early 90s, they are now firmly competitive, and may be problems getting them to co-operate on a strategic network without some seeing themselves as subsidising others.

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