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8 May 2007
EARNEST Discusses Preliminary Findings with Stakeholders

On 27 April 2007, the EARNEST foresight study presented some of its preliminary findings to managers of National Research and Education Networking organisations (NRENs) at a workshop which was hosted by SANET in Bratislava. On 8 May 2007, TERENA organised a similar workshop in Amsterdam that was aimed at representatives of funding bodies and policy makers. In both workshops, the discussion of the work done in the seven EARNEST sub-studies led to a lively exchange of opinions. Numerous questions were raised and suggestions were made, which will provide useful input for the further work in the EARNEST study.

EARNEST (Education And Research Networking Evolution Study) looks at the expected development of research and education networking in Europe over the next 5-10 years. The study started in March 2006 and is planned to be completed at the end of October 2007. In the current phase of the study (July 2006 – June 2007), seven sub-studies are carried out in parallel. They cover researchers' requirements, technical issues, campus issues, economic issues, geographic issues, organisation and governance issues, and the requirements of users in schools, the healthcare sector and the arts, humanities and social sciences.

The sub-study looking at the network and service requirements of researchers has conducted a large-scale survey of researcher's needs. Some highlights from the extensive survey were presented by Thibaut Lery (European Science Foundation) in Amsterdam and by Karel Vietsch (TERENA) in Bratislava. Some particular findings were the high level of satisfaction of users with the connectivity and services offered to them, including the apparent disappearance of the "campus bottleneck" that was identified in a similar survey four years ago, the great demand for, but at the same time the limited use of, videoconferencing, and the wish of researchers to receive more training in the use of networking facilities. Access to digital libraries and discipline-specific databases was mentioned by researchers as the major change brought to them by research networks in recent years.

Some of these findings were also reflected in the survey of local network technicians and managers that had been carried out in the sub-study on campus issues. Highlights from that survey were presented by Jean-Paul le Guigner (CRU) in Bratislava and Martin Price (EUNIS) in Amsterdam. A remarkable finding was that network capacities, budgets and staffing are very different in different campuses in Europe, often without a clear correlation to the extent to which the situation was judged to be satisfactory by network practitioners. Some case studies will be carried out to throw more light on the variety of the levels of network and service provision.

Sabine Jaume-Rajaonia (RENATER) presented the first results of three reports that deal with schools, the healthcare sector and users in the arts, humanities and social sciences, respectively. Part of this work was based on desk studies of large-scale surveys carried out by other parties; it was clear that the statistical information collected by those surveys needs careful interpretation.

The sub-study on technical issues looks at four areas: transmission technology, control planes, operations and performance, and middleware. Interviews have been conducted with hardware and software manufacturers, and the preliminary findings were presented by TERENA's Kevin Meynell in Bratislava and Licia Florio in Amsterdam.

Dai Davies (DANTE) presented some highlights from discussion papers on economic issues. One main theme is that now that the research networking community has turned to the paradigm of dark-fibre networks, distance has become an important factor in the costs of network connections, potentially adding a purely distance-based geographic divide to the well-known 'digital divide'. In Bratislava, Dai Davies' presentation was complemented by a presentation by Claire Milne (Antelope Consulting) on regulatory issues. The lively discussion that followed her presentation made it clear that regulatory issues are once again very much in the focus of attention of NREN managers. Some of them are faced with regulatory problems today, while others could expect to become involved in regulatory discussions in the near future. It was suggested that TERENA might take an initiative to bring NREN managers together to discuss common regulatory problems and agree on a joint approach.

Robin Arak (Archway Computer Associates), the leader of the sub-study on organisation and governance issues, presented the findings of an survey of NRENs. Complementing the data collected on an annual basis in the TERENA Compendium of NRENs in Europe, the survey had collected much information about the way in which NRENs are organised and governed.

Finally, Jorge Sanchez-Papaspiliou (J&N Partners) presented some of the work done in the sub-study on geographic issues, namely the definition of an index that can serve as a measure for the digital divide in research and education networking between countries.

In both workshops, the audience recognised that the findings presented to them were only preliminary results and that further analysis is needed to arrive at conclusions and recommendations. They suggested various approaches to this, including in same cases the investigation of correlations between the survey results in different sub-studies.

The programmes of the two workshops, including the slides of the presentations, can be found at www.terena.org/activities/earnest/ws2/programme.html and www.terena.org/activities/earnest/ws3/programme.html. .