Research and Education Networking FAQ - General
What is research and education networking?
Research and education networking is the provision of computer networks for interconnecting research and educational institutes in order to facilitate exchange of information for research and teaching purposes. These networks normally utilise Internet standards nowadays, although this was not always the case.
Research and education establishments were amongst the first users of computer networks, and have therefore played an important role in the development of the Internet. They have traditionally been early adopters of new technologies, and still have an important role in the establishment of new services. In particular, new Internet protocols tend to be introduced in research and education networks before being deployed elsewhere.
Research and education networks can exist at local and regional levels, although in most countries they are formally organised as National Research and Education Networks (NRENs). These networks are usually interconnected with other research and education networks, as well as to the wider Internet. Continental networks (e.g. GÉANT) also exist to interconnect NRENs in certain regions, and to other parts of the world.
These networks typically utilise high-speed, high-capacity infrastructures and provide advanced services that are often not found elsewhere on the Internet. This is possible because many networks have been able to obtain dedicated fibre optic connections over which multiple communications channels can be established to meet demand, whether for common services or specialist applications. Where dark fibre is unavailable, capacity is usually leased from telecommunications providers, although this is less flexible and usually incurs comparatively higher costs.
As well as physical connectivity, research and education networks often provide other useful services such as videoconferencing, media streaming, IP telephony, access federations, and wireless roaming. They can also be involved in establishing and coordinating distributed computing resources (known as grids), and in operating experimental testbeds.
In addition, some research and education networks still operate national domain (ccTLDs) registries for the entire Internet community in their countries, as a legacy of them having established the Internet there. Similarly, whilst most research and education networks have some sort of computer security incident handling and response team (CSIRT) for their own community, some provide services to the government, military and commercial sectors as well.
Research and education networks may undertake day-to-day operations with their own dedicated staff, using the staff of member institutions, or through outsourcing to an external organisation. This is often determined by the availability of skilled staff, levels of funding, and commercial agreements.
What is an NREN?
A National Research and Education Network (NREN) is a specialised Internet service provider to the research and educational communities within a country. NRENs provide connectivity and services to higher education establishments (typically universities) and research institutes, but can also support schools, further education colleges, libraries and other public institutes. In some cases, services may be provided to government and healthcare sectors as well.
There is usually only one recognised NREN in each country, although some countries may have separate networking organisations for different research and educational sectors. Where there is more than one networking organisation though, it is usual for international connectivity to be arranged through one of these organisations, or alternatively an umbrella organisation, which then becomes the de-facto NREN. In larger countries, it is also common to have separate regional or metropolitan networks interconnected by the NREN.
The organisational and ownership model for NRENs varies between countries. Some NRENs are separately incorporated, others are government departments, whilst others are operated by third parties (often university departments) under contract. NRENs can either be owned by governments, by the institutions in the communities they serve, or sometimes a combination of the two. More rarely, commercial entities may also have a stake in an NREN where they have provided significant capital investment. In very small countries with only a few educational establishments, it is common for the largest institute (usually the national university) to provide services as part of its internal networking activities.
NRENs are generally publicly funded in some manner. In some cases, governments (national and regional) directly fund some or all of the running costs, whilst in other cases, some or all of the running costs are paid for by the institutions receiving services. The European Union also provides some funding for international connectivity, whilst other funding sources can include the domain name registries that are operated by some NRENs, external consultancy, and commercial sponsorship.
A list of NRENs around the world may be found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_research_and_education_network