Europe has created a pan-European research networking infrastructure to exploit the emerging developments in telecommunication technology and to support all fields of collaborative research. This infrastructure provides an "equality of opportunity" for all researchers and students across Europe, reaching over 3,000 research and education institutions in over 30 countries through 28 National and Regional Research and Education Networks (NRENs).
GÉANT provides a stable, ubiquitous, high-capacity, public transport network for production-quality data communications. As such it meets the expected end-user demand resulting from the strong growth in Internet usage and the emergence of new demanding scientific and industrial applications and services.
GÉANT provides the highest capacity and offers the greatest geographic coverage of any network of its kind in the world. In this context, the rapid implementation of the GÉANT backbone network at 10 Gbps has been a major achievement in support of the e Europe actions, especially in terms of achieving a faster Internet for researchers.
As an essential infrastructure that supports all other fields of collaborative research, GÉANT is of paramount importance for the practical realisation of a European Research Area, of which the Community's Sixth RTD Framework Programme is a major component.
The GÉANT infrastructure
GÉANT is based on a multi Gbps resilient core, exploiting dense wavelength division multiplexing (DWDM) optical technology. Through the carefully planned integration of new emerging technologies into the existing network, it maintains and develops a stable and dependable set of advanced services to meet the needs of a large and diverse end-user community.
GÉANT continues the dual role of providing an infrastructure to support researchers, as well as providing an infrastructure for (network) research itself. This infrastructure constitutes an environment for demonstration and validation of advanced networking applications based on new services. Its scale caters for the realistic testing and improvement of desirable new capabilities for which there are, at present, insufficient commercial incentives. This is the case with experimentations on topics such as new IP protocols, premium IP, Virtual Private Networking, guaranteed Quality of Service and all-optical networking. Regarding disruptive technologies, for which experimentation may have to be confined to experimental test-beds, GÉANT can also provide a useful service as the network provides access and interconnection between geographically separated test-beds.
The innovative characteristics of GÉANT and the synergies being exploited through complementary research actions on IPv6, GRIDs and optical networks constitute major successes on which further actions may be built in the future.
A policy-oriented initiative
Research Networking in general, and GÉANT in particular, have acquired political significance as an instrument facilitating co-operation and convergence. As such they help to implement a wide range of policies:
- RNs are a tool for research and constitute a key component of the European Research Area: they bring together researchers from all regions of Europe, softening disparities and easing access to sources of information and processing power.
- RNs are a driver for innovation: they support thousands of on-line researchers that are seen to be the "avant-gard" of the Internet, pushing available technology to its limits.
- RNs are a benchmark for deregulation in Europe: they promote competition for broadband infrastructures and services that will be provided commercially in the future.
- RNs are a means to strengthen co-operation with other regions of the world.
GÉANT and the global connectivity challenge
GÉANT has been designed to offer interconnections with Research Networking in other regions of the world as a fully integrated part of its overall service. The interconnection points in Europe are limited to those which allow efficient distribution of traffic across the whole of the GÉANT network but to provide flexibility in the location of the end-points so that the most cost-effective implementations of interconnections can be put in place.
The set of GÉANT nodes at which interconnections may terminate make up the European Distributed Access (EDA). A connection to the EDA can be seen from other parts of the world as an effective connection to GÉANT as a whole and to all the connected NRENs. All GÉANT services, including those which will be developed to provide guaranteed quality of service and support for Virtual Private Networks, will be available at the interconnections. GÉANT offers, therefore, a flexible and scalable access topology from all connecting countries and continents. This ensures global connectivity, facilitates international co-operation and strengthens Europe's position in negotiating cost-sharing arrangements.
GÉANT - a co-operative effort
GÉANT is financed collectively on a shared-cost basis by the national Research Networking (mostly funds coming from universities or government) and the European Commission via its research budget. Given its necessary pan-European dimension, a very large consortium of NRENs in Europe joined forces to implement it. The consortium is coordinated by DANTE, a non-profit organisation set up to build and manage advanced network services for the European research and educational community.
The GÉANT consortium adopts a series of cost-sharing principles to ensure that the benefits of an overall cost-effective infrastructure are shared among the participants in a stable way, thus strengthening their commitment and ensuring European cohesion. A two-part cost allocation model is adopted, taking into consideration both the geographic element and the central set of shared costs. Especially in the core, the effects of liberalisation in Europe have ensured an extremely significant progressive decrease of the bandwidth costs and this factor (which may not be so visible in some regions of Europe) is therefore reflected in the cost charged to all the participants.