SURFnet keeps on developing its network. We closely examine the network trends at the member institutions for this. As Product Manager Network Services at SURFnet I’ve spoken to various institutions recently. And we ran a brainstorming day to survey network trends. What are the main thrusts in network trends and how can we take advantage of them?
Trend 1: External data centre
Traditionally, most SURFnet member institutions, including universities, universities of applied sciences and UMCs, have their own data centre within their network. The advantages are that the institutions have a high degree of control over the ICT services to staff and students and that the data are safely stored in-house. Disadvantages include the high investment costs and acquiring and maintaining the right knowledge to manage the data centre. But above all, it is very difficult to plan investments: the demand for storage capacity, for instance, continues to grow and is hard to predict. On top of that, investment decisions need to be taken at least four years in advance.
This is why many institutions host their data centres externally, with a commercial party for example. The institution therefore has less to worry about and the data centre is infinitely more scalable: if demand increases or decreases you can simply buy in more or less capacity.
SURFnet predicts that the demand for network connections outside of the institutions will grow as a result of this trend: there is often a secondary data centre in addition to a primary data centre as well as the institution’s various sites that make use of the data centre. In addition to making the current light paths more flexible, we are examining how multipoint connections can be used to connect all of these locations to each other and to the data centres safely, in a controlled manner and with high bandwidth. SURFnet is examining the options in the SURFnet-network, within project E-LAN (Ethernet Local Area Network). At the end of 2015 we launched the pilots with E-LANs.
When network connections cross the campus boundary to reach commercial data centres the institution depends on multiple parties. Up until now the campus ICT Department bore sole responsibility for the functioning of the network. Now SURFnet and the data centre operator can be added to this. These longer chains pose a challenge in properly harmonising all locations so that the connection can be used optimally.
And determining the cause of performance issues, for instance, becomes a task for a number of parties. End users, such as researchers and sometimes ICT departments too, often do not know what is causing a performance issue and who can help them resolve it. To help ICT departments and end users with performance problems SURFnet is examining the possibility of setting up a Performance Enhancement and Response Team (PERT). A PERT, together with the party/parties involved, first investigates which domain has the problem and then attempts to find a resolution. We launched an initial PERT pilot at the end of 2015.
Trend 2: From management to coordination
More and more, institutions are seeing ICT as less of a core activity and also have less capability to innovate in this field. This creates a need to outsource ICT management and buy in standard network functionality such as firewalls, encryption and wireless management. To meet this need SURFnet plans to introduce the SURFwireless service in 2016 and is currently running a Firewall-on-Demand pilot. In addition, in this context SURFnet is examining the feasibility of providing virtual network functions as a service. Examples include Firewall-as-a-Service or Encryption-as-a-Service. Institutions can then choose, via a portal, whether or not to acquire these services in their network or in combination with SURFnet network services (add-on). This will only become available in the next generation of SURFnet network services at the earliest because modifications to the network architecture will need to be made. Read the article about the new architecture for the SURFnet network in Computable (in Dutch)
Updating and exploring the network
When institutions outsource more they often do not retain much capacity for innovation in their network. This is why we are setting up a testbed with the latest network technologies. Software Defined Networking (SDN) is one such technology that is very promising. But at the same time, this also raises a number of questions from the institutions, such as what can they do with it and what applications does SDN facilitate that could be useful in higher education and research? An SDN testbed provides an opportunity to examine these questions along with the institutions and to build up and share knowledge together. Read more about the SDN testbed.
Trend 3: IaaS and SaaS
More and more often, institutions are purchasing infrastructure and software services in the cloud. For example, they buy computing power and storage from SURF and/or commercial parties. These resources must be available quickly. Purchasing services from the cloud can mean lower costs and one of the advantages is that you can easily increase or decrease the capacity you are purchasing.
More control over quality parameters
Different cloud services can make different demands on the network. One service will be susceptible to delay and another service will make demands on the available bandwidth. How can the network layer take account of the application layer so that the quality experience is the best possible for the end user? For the next generation of the SURFnet network we will investigate how we can provide institutions with the capability to exercise more control over the quality parameters for their network service. The aim is to be able to optimise the performance of the higher-level applications. Read the article about the next-generation of the SURFnet network in Computable (in Dutch).
There often is a desire to connect cloud services to the network directly and quickly. The network has to be ready to accommodate this. Consider, for example, a researcher who needs computing power temporarily and wants to save the raw and processed data somewhere. In that case, it must be possible to arrange connectivity to the computing power and data storage location quickly and to upscale it if necessary. If you need additional processing capacity for a month or a few hours for a major research project, and therefore also require network capacity, it should be available within a few minutes, without causing hindrance to ‘ordinary’ network users. Ideally, you should simply be able to request the required additional capacity and network connectivity (point-to-point or multipoint) via an online portal or even have the application itself request it fully automatically, via an API.
To that end, SURFnet aims to continue to develop its existing SURFlichtpaden service and expand it with new functionalities. This calls for a new technological basis with open standards so that the service is capable of properly integrating with, for instance, on-demand computing power and storage services in the cloud. Software Defined Networking (SDN) provides this new technological basis and the proper, standardised solutions. Using SDN, SURFnet will continue to further develop on-demand network services and programmability in the next-generation SURFnet network.
Self-service with network dashboard
To make the request process as simple as possible, we are working on a Network Dashboard where users can request network connectivity. In 2016 an institution will be able to set up light paths from one MSP to another MSP itself. Read more about the network dashboard.
Share your vision too
SURFnet continuously examines the wishes and requirements for its next-generation network, including through workshops and one-to-one interviews with institutions. Based on the initial surveys in 2015 a Request for Information (RFI) has been written inviting the network providers market to contribute their ideas.
We would like to continue discussions with institutions. What is your institution’s view on the trends in this blog? Do you recognise the trends that have been mentioned in your own institution? Do you have anything to add or clarify as regards these network trends? Or do you know of any other important developments we should be looking at for innovating the network? Or would you like to take part in an E-LAN pilot? Please get in touch with me.
Moreover, on 28 January 2016 SURFnet is organising a meeting in Utrecht where we would like to tell you all about the state of play and hear your comments. Register now for this Network café. Do you have any questions about the network? Please contact me at
Richa Malhotra: firstname.lastname@example.org
Previous blogs following discussions with institutions;
- University of Amsterdam requests a more centralised approach to research data management
- University hospitals want to use computing capacity more efficiently
- Deltion College opts for Software Defined Networking (SDN)
- ASTRON’s requirement for bandwidth is constantly increasing
- Utrecht University is working towards Software as a Service
- Universities of applied sciences consider Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)