SA research, education network speeds up

Admire Moyo
By Admire Moyo, ITWeb's news editor.
Johannesburg, 20 Jul 2022

The South African National Research and Education Network (SA NREN) has been upgraded to help all connected South African universities, colleges, scientific councils, researchers and innovation centres to access faster connectivity quicker.

The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), South African National Research Network (SANReN), Tertiary Education and Research Network of South Africa (Tenet) and NEC XON have upgraded the SA NREN network to 96-channel 100Gbps fibre with multi-gigabits-per-second regional links.

According to the organisations, this makes it one of the finest NRENs in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The network was established in 2007, and dedicated to science, research, education and innovation traffic.

This, after in 2005, the Department of Science and Technology obtained R365 million funding from National Treasury for the project.

The roles and responsibilities of the network are distributed between the SANReN group at the CSIR and Tenet.

Ubiquitous access

The organisations co-operate closely in building and supporting the SA NREN as a research, education and innovation platform for the benefit of its customers and users, and for the realisation of associated national development objectives.

The SANReN group is responsible for the design, acquisition and rollout of national and international capacity for the SA NREN, as well as the development and incubation of advanced services.

It forms part of a comprehensive South African government approach to cyber infrastructure, geared at ensuring the successful participation of South African researchers in the global knowledge production endeavour.

“Providing ubiquitous access to South African academia, researchers, student healthcare, scientific and innovation institutions is a challenge we continuously strive to resolve,” says Ajay Makan, head of operations at SANReN.

“This is particularly in light of how learning and research has evolved in the past couple of years. It is also in the context of the socio-economic challenges that students experience. This network helps us toward achieving that goal.”

According to the organisations, the network provides significantly more bandwidth.

An additional key benefit is it’s now much quicker to provision bandwidth to all users, they note, adding these include universities and their satellite campuses, teaching hospitals, the Square Kilometre Array project, South African Large Telescope, the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory HartRAO facility and other astronomy users, Technical and Vocational Education and Training colleges, academic entities, technology innovation hubs and science councils.

SANReN is a core national dark fibre backbone with several managed bandwidth backbone links, regional backbone extensions, backhauling from the submarine cable landing stations at Yzerfontein and Mtunzini, capacity on five undersea cables, and several metropolitan area networks.

The upgrade now delivers as much as 600Gbps on the backbone in tests, up from 100Gbps. It also achieves up to 300Gbps for the regional links, up from 10Gbps, the organisations say.

The backbone uses ADVA Optical Networking DWDM equipment from NEC XON. DWDM works by combining and transmitting multiple signals simultaneously at different wavelengths on the same fibre.

The technology creates multiple virtual fibres, effectively multiplying the capacity of the physical medium.

The network overlay uses Juniper Networks equipment, also from NEC XON. It includes various devices such as the MX10003 Universal Routing Platform and EX series switches.

Anthony Laing, GM of Networking at NEC XON.
Anthony Laing, GM of Networking at NEC XON.

Carrier-grade network

NEC XON says the service-centric MX10003 Universal Routing Platform helps users address long-term traffic, subscriber and services growth. EX Series switches are cloud-ready, high-performance access and distribution and core-layer devices for enterprise branch, campus and data centre networks, it adds.

“The combination of ADVA and Juniper equipment in the SA NREN architecture makes this a carrier-grade network with the capacity to scale to meet dynamic user requirements. This is particularly important now as the world increasingly evolves through hybrid work and study scenarios,” says Anthony Laing, head of networking at NEC XON.

“It positions SANReN to meet the changing needs of their users without necessarily having to know upfront what those future needs may be.”

“Having the capacity enables new future services,” says Makan. “We may not know what they are but we have the capacity to enable them. For example, nobody could have foreseen the sudden and widespread adoption of video-conferencing during the COVID-19 pandemic. That was a behaviour change that Tenet had to ramp up and support via the network.”

“We previously used managed circuits, which were the best technology at the time,” says Shukri Wiener, executive officer for technical and operations at Tenet. “But they caused longer provisioning times. With the upgraded network, that is now changed.”

“Our researchers and academics need bandwidth of varying scales for different periods,” says John Hay, networking expert and IP authority at SANReN.

“The DWDM equipment on dark fibre enables us to light it up quickly at the speeds we need and is installed across the network at all the major nodes, which are in Johannesburg, Cape Town, Potchefstroom, East London, Port Elizabeth, Durban and Pretoria.”