The Value of GÉANT
Supporting smart growth in Europe
GÉANT has long been a vital part of European research and education, but how does this role support the Europe 2020 growth strategy?
GÉANT is a success story. For the past ten years, through the joined force of national research and education networks, it has been a vital element of Europe’s e-infrastructure, providing the high speed connectivity needed to share, access and process massive volumes of data: data which is essential to the study of particle physics, bio-informatics, the advancing of medicine or simply enabling arts performers in different continents perform together in near real-time. Considered the most advanced research network in the world, GÉANT has helped put Europe at the heart of global research, benefiting over 40 million researchers and students across Europe who collaborate with peers across the world on ground-breaking discoveries and learning.
Did you know....
GÉANT and its partners connect over 8,000 institutions. ‘Other’ institutions include libraries, government departments, hospitals and museums.
Many of Europe’s NRENs provide connectivity to primary and secondary schools, giving over 20,000 schools access to GÉANT.
To quote Neelie Kroes, European Commission Vice President for the Digital Agenda, by “bringing together the brightest minds in the world, GÉANT not only benefits Europe’s competitiveness but is also boosting collaboration between researchers on a global scale.”
Talent will find a way
If opposites really do attract, nobody has told researchers and academics: talent is attracted to other groups of talent, and when they are separated by distance they will find a way to collaborate. Perhaps in the past this would have meant physical relocation – witness the concentration of talent around hubs such as world-famous universities and institutes – but now of course this collaboration can take place virtually regardless of physical location thanks to e-infrastructure. GÉANT’s role up to now has therefore been vital in positioning Europe at the forefront of research and education.
It was not always this way. In the 1990s Europe lagged behind North America in its research networking, suffering from high prices driven by telecommunications monopolies and poor access for the peripheral regions of Europe. Market liberalisation, major investment at national and European level and successful collaboration have all played their part in propelling Europe to a world leadership position.
A highly competitive market
Of course, the world doesn’t stand still, and Europe is facing stiff competition from other regions. The United States and China are investing heavily in ICT (Information and Communications Technology) as a source of competi¬tive advantage (around five or six times more than Europe over the next seven years), putting Europe’s position at serious risk. It is a complex issue including politics, priorities and long term strategy: those regions in a position to support their vision of ICT with continued – and increased – investment expect to reap the benefits of a well-equipped knowledge society. Others are in a more difficult situation, unable to ramp investment even though the vision is strong. Europe is expected to build on its notable success to date, and has put ICT at the heart of its plans.
Maintaining Europe’s lead
Addressing the crisis we are all aware of, the EU has responded with Europe 2020 – a cohesive growth strategy built around smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. Smart growth in this context means improving performance in education, research and innovation and the EU is targeting increased funding in research and innovation, as well as improved levels of employment and educational attainment.
Within the area of smart growth, the Digital Agenda for Europe is one of three flagship initiatives to deliver on this strategy. Aimed at making “Every European Digital”, it is targeting high speed internet access for all, and can be viewed as a roadmap for bringing the benefits of a digital economy and society to Europe’s citizens. GÉANT lies at the very heart of this initiative, continuing to address the digital divide – a prerequisite for Europe’s continued economic and social development – and to provide researchers and students across all of Europe with access to world class connectivity and services.
However, with the world of research and education changing so drastically, and in the context of Europe 2020, the future role of GÉANT was re-evaluated by the GÉANT Expert Group (GEG), a group of independent experts set up by the EC to “articulate a 2020 vision for European Research and Education networking and identify an action plan for realising this vision.” The GEG published its report in October 2011 to provide a vision and action plan for how European research networks should look in 2020 (to read the report online, visit the GÉANT Expert Group webpage).
Step up funding
Recognising the competition posed by other world regions, one of the key overall recommendations in the report was to ‘step up funding’. In particular, several more specific recommendations were made in this area: member states must continue to invest in their research networks; high-end users must bear a greater share of the burden; budgets for innovation activities should increase significantly; funding on all levels should be properly planned for and stable. This last point – perhaps mindful of the current crisis – reminds us of the vital nature of e-infrastructure and the need to avoid short term funding volatility.
Many NRENs have had to quickly evolve to cope with the rapid growth in data heavy global research, offering a wider range of services to a growing number of users, who in turn are creating a greater volume of usage. In many countries, this trend is accompanied with an expansion and upgrading of connectivity to client institutions and in an ever widening range of countries, large users are being migrated to terabit networks. The result of this new generation of networked services has also meant an increase in staff requirements, yet for many NRENs funding has remained static for the last five years. With the economic climate still in a state of flux, further cuts remain a risk, while the needs of the research community continue to grow exponentially.
ICT vital to Europe’s smart growth
Research networks must remain at the forefront of technology and innovation. Our role is to lead the way and act as innovators whilst continuing to deliver a level of service not easily found elsewhere.
While NRENs are designed not just to support, but to stimulate research, innovation and flow of content, the ability to allocate resources for deploying new services for users and add value through services, such as brokerage and secondary education, is more important than ever.
It is essential that continued, adequate investment at local, national and European level is available to ensure users benefit from the highest quality services. Just as a well maintained road and railway infrastructure is needed to maintain an economy, so e-infrastructures need to be upgraded, serviced and supported to drive the digital economy. The risks of not doing so could be profound: without sustained and adequate funding, Europe risks not only losing its envious position at the heart of global research, but also failing to deliver the smart growth all our hopes are pinned on. And ultimately, that will only increase the pressure currently facing Europe.