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24 November 2014
Network Architects: growing demand for zero-touch networking
Lars Fischer (NORDunet) fields questions after introducing the 3rd Network Architects Workshop.

The zero-touch connectivity principle - especially in case of campus wireless networks - was the hottest discussion topic among the 35 participants of the third Network Architects Workshop. The workshop was held from 12-13 November 2014 in conjunction with the GÉANT (GN3plus) project's 'Future Network' activity (JRA1) meeting, and was hosted by NORDUnet in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Zero-touch provisioning of a WiFi environment would mean that NRENs offer a set of tools that allows institutions to automate device provisioning and service activation without the need to pre-configure devices before their deployment. Zero-touch provisioning from NRENs to institutions would shorten the deployment and configuration time of campus WiFi networks from weeks or days to minutes, and enhance the reliability of flagship services such as eduroam.

During the third Network Architects workshop, it became apparent that there is a growing demand from customers / campuses for zero-touch provisioning. Participants reported that institutions just want to be connected to the network and don't want to configure access devices and protocols. Current technology allows this kind of setup; it's now only a matter of NRENs implementing it as a service. This is especially true when it comes to campus WiFi networks, which can be hard to set up. The workshop participants felt that NRENs should offer a WiFi zero-touch service with eduroam as default.

3G / 4G and WiFi convergence

Participants also discussed 3G / 4G mobile and WiFi convergence. In this context, SURFnet demonstrated a promising pilot project in which a commercial mobile operator, the NREN and universities can work together to create a mobile exchange at campus sites. This allows students to virtually be on campus whether they are connected to WiFi / eduroam or 3G / 4G networks.

Photonic spectrum sharing

A session about the pan-European backbone network concluded with a discussion about the technical feasibility and economic benefits of photonic spectrum sharing and fibre sharing on network spans where NRENs and/or NORDUnet / GÉANT backbone networks have common paths. The idea of experimenting with a simple and relatively low-cost coherent optical transmission layer where the intelligence is pushed to the edge of the network - i.e. into pluggable optical interfaces to IP routers - was recommended for further consideration.

More information

The agenda, slides and other information about this workshop are available online.

All Network Architects workshops in the series are open to anyone with an interest in advanced network architecture. The workshops show the latest developments in this area and serve as a discussion platform. You can find more information on the Network Architects Workshops home page.