National research network takes next step

Staff Writer
By Staff Writer, ITWeb
Johannesburg, 25 Oct 2011

A collaborative networking effort, the eThekwini metro fibre ring reached completion this month, the CSIR (Council for Scientific and Industrial Research) and Department of Science and Technology (DST) announced.

The fibre optic network in the eThekwini metro was installed by Dark Fibre Africa (DFA), which was awarded the contract for this part of the South African National Research Network (Sanren) through a competitive RFP process.

Sanren is a high-speed network aiming to connect more than 200 research and tertiary sites around the country with international research and education organisations around the globe.

The network architecture consists of a national backbone connecting Durban, Pretoria, Johannesburg, Bloemfontein, Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and East London on a 10Gbps ring network. Metro rings are being installed in Johannesburg, Tshwane, eThekwini and Cape Town.

A second phase of the Sanren project is extending the backbone to more remote sites including Polokwane, Grahamstown, Makhado and Mafikeng. Sanren provides international connectivity via the Seacom cable through an arrangement with Sanren's operating partner, the Tertiary Education and Research Network of SA (Tenet).

Network circulation

At a recent event in Durban to announce the network's progress, acting executive director of the CSIR Meraka Institute, Laurens Cloete, indicated that Sanren will ultimately interconnect all research and tertiary education sites in SA.

“The CSIR contracted DFA to manage the installation of the optic fibre for three of the Sanren metropolitan area networks, namely Tshwane, eThekwini and Cape Town, with eThekwini being the latest to be commissioned.”

By the end of 2012, a total of R783 million is expected to have been invested by the DST in the complete Sanren network roll-out, which includes the national backbone network, metropolitan area networks, backbone network extensions, connections to the South African Large Telescope and Square Kilometre Array sites, and associated equipment costs.

Cloete says the Durban link, which cost an estimated R25 million and is approximately 80km in length, connects the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban University of Technology, CSIR, Human Sciences Research Council, Medical Research Council, UNISA and a number of other institutions.

The CSIR Meraka Institute is responsible for implementing Sanren on behalf of the DST, which views the network as a key component of SA's national cyber-infrastructure along with the Centre for High Performance Computing in Cape Town and the emerging Very Large Scale Database initiative.

“Meraka's vision is to contribute to SA's development towards an advanced information society and Sanren, as one of the largest broadband projects in the country, is an important initiate in realising this vision.”

World-class potential

Dr Daniel Adams, chief director of emerging research areas and infrastructure at the DST, says one of the fundamental goals is to build a world-class network across SA, to prove to researchers around the globe that the country can offer them the same connectivity as any research network on the planet.

“By being able to offer these technological capabilities, we want to be able to address our country's brain drain and, hopefully, entice researchers to return to SA.”

Adams stressed that ICT was identified as the catalyst for creating an improved quality of life, as well as enhancing the economic competitiveness of the industry.

To realise these strategies, government invested in a high-end ICT-based infrastructure, to address the multi-disciplinary and cross-border (geographic and disciplinary) needs of modern science, says Adams.

The 'e-infrastructure' also exploits advances in ICT and integrates hardware for computing, data and networks, observatories and experimental facilities, as well as an interoperable suite of software and middleware services and tools, he adds.

According to Tenet CEO Dr Duncan Martin, its international capacity on Seacom, the Sanren network, the formation of the Ubuntunet Alliance as a regional research and education network, and the liberalisation of the telecoms industry have seen prices for international connectivity drop from R13 375 per Mbps in October 2007, to R1 380 per Mbps in 2011.

“It is now approximately 10 times cheaper than before,” he says. “This means sites can finally afford the type of international connectivity they require to be successful in their research and education endeavours.”