HEAnet’s Chief Executive, John Boland explains how Ireland’s National Education and Research Network keeps Ireland’s education institutions at the cutting edge of technology.
Established in 1983 by Ireland’s Universities, with the support of the Higher Education Authority, HEAnet now provides essential e-infrastructure services across all levels of the Irish education system. Their very high-speed, resilient network connects all Irish Universities, Institutes of Technology (IoTs) and other higher education institutions as well as research organisations. In addition, all primary and post-primary schools across Ireland greatly benefit from using HEAnet for their internet services.
HEAnet has succeeded in building a superb, 100 Gbit-capable, high-bandwidth network to support higher education and research across Ireland.
According to Boland, this allows HEAnet’s 64 clients to connect directly via a secure, private and fast network.
“Students, staff and researchers here in Ireland have all the advantages which the largest EU countries have access to.” Boland said. “We are at the leading edge of research networking, and this ensures our end-users have access to the same services as their counterparts across Europe.”
“We offer our one million users connectivity that is typically 1000 times faster than what small businesses or home users have access to.”
Thanks to HEAnet, Ireland’s education and research community now has a very high-speed bandwidth network that connects institutions from Letterkenny to Cork, and from Dublin to Galway. The network is being constantly improved, with the next phase of development entitled RMAN (Replacement of the Metropolitan Area Networks), facilitating increased collaboration across institutions, and ensuring a reduced carbon footprint.
One of the most tangible benefits of this network is that every school in Ireland now also has high-speed access to the internet. “Our network provides world-class internet connectivity to 800 secondary schools and every single one of them has a 100MB dedicated connection,” said Boland. “This gives teachers the opportunity to confidently use their electronic white boards and use activities on the internet for teaching. It is one thing for the teacher to describe from a book the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel but it is another to navigate right around it on the white board.”
With island schools on Inis Meáin and Tory Island connected, we are seeing examples of honours maths classes being taught interactively, with students on the islands partaking in these through good quality video conferencing.”
In all aspects of ICT, the cloud is growing ever more prevalent. HEAnet recognises that its clients have differing expectations and therefore believe that the future of cloud computing should be approached using a hybrid strategy. This would see data stored on a secure private cloud, as well as via the public cloud. The idea of data being stored on the public cloud may at first sound alarming but as Boland explains, data security is at the forefront of HEAnet’s priorities.
“Security of data and cost savings are the primary concerns here,” he said. “Our client data is very valuable and sensitive in its nature so one thing that we will be working hard with our partners on is guaranteeing where the data resides. For example, will it reside under Irish jurisdiction?
Boland is sure the security fears around the cloud can be overcome and that Ireland’s changing telecoms landscape, with the on-going fibre roll out, signals a huge strategic shift in the ICT realm. Colleges he feels, want “fully managed solutions” that are maintained, managed, monitored and supported 24/7. In this scenario HEAnet can broker those solutions and bring to bear the weight of 30,000 institutions across Europe to negotiate with companies in London, Amsterdam or wherever.
HEAnet’s ability to bring commercial experience to ICT and networks procurement is being used to great advantage by all the institutions it serves.
Leveraging the buying power of some 64 institutions (and one million users when primary, secondary and third-level students are all taken into account), HEAnet has the ability to negotiate solutions and procurements with major companies, saving clients money, time and effort.
Working alongside the Office of Government Procurement (OGP), the team strives to secure the best deals for client institutions, across software, hardware and cloud services. This can be seen in the up-to 90 per cent discounts that institutions have been able to enjoy on certain key products.
HEAnet is committed to providing e-infrastructure platforms to support the needs of all its clients but ultimately, cost efficiency remains at the heart of the operation.
Market Leader in Services
An area where HEAnet and Ireland lead the way is the delivery of the Edugate system.
Edugate is a single sign-on authentication service for students and academic researchers that allows them to access and collaborate on lots of different web resources, including online databases, e-books and exam systems as well as uploading assignments, without having to remember multiple usernames and passwords every time.
“In this instance, Ireland is a leader, not a follower, with more and more institutions signing up to Edugate each year. We have also developed a federation management tool called JAGGER. Federation management can be complex, but JAGGER has made this task much simpler and is now being adopted around the world”, Boland said.
Another shared service provided by HEAnet is eduroam a wireless roaming solution, designed to the take the headache out of connecting to Wi-Fi for students and staff when visiting other institutions.
A world-wide solution, eduroam ensures that Irish users can, once authenticated, visit any participating college or institution anywhere in the world, and immediately connect to the internet. HEAnet are actively participating in this hugely useful service.
Management Information Systems (MIS) are also important in the education sector. HEAnet now has a subsidiary (EduCampus Services Limited) providing centrally managed MIS services covering library, finance and student systems to all of Ireland’s Institutes of Technology.
“This is another example of our mission to provide cost-effective shared services,” explains Boland. “It gives our clients the most effective way of obtaining complex systems, without having to individually and expensively procure their own solutions and recruit staff to maintain the systems.”
All of this underlines how HEAnet has moved towards offering a diverse portfolio of shared services. Evolving beyond being simply the supplier of the network connection, HEAnet now represents a responsive network focused on clients’ needs as well as real collaboration.
John Boland has been Chief Executive of HEAnet Ltd since its incorporation in 1997.
Before heading up HEAnet, John worked in DCU, and before that worked in industry for a range of international companies including Marconi Communications Systems in the UK, Motorola Information Systems in the UK and US, and GE Westinghouse in Australia.
John represents Ireland on the GÉANT Policy Committee – a collaboration between the European National Research Networks and the European Commission, delivering advanced pan-European research and education networking.
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