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Internet2 Pursues Collaboration in the Cloud

Internet2's new cloud partnership hopes to kick-start collaboration and shared research across higher ed institutions nationwide--and globally.

Internet2 is a nonprofit consortium focused on advanced networking. Made up of members of the research and education community, it cooperates with leading companies, government agencies, laboratories, and institutions around the world to provide network capacity and share in the development of new technologies. Last fall, Internet2 announced partnerships with Box and HP/SHI to develop and deploy cloud offerings through its NET+ Services. Campus Technology caught up with David Lambert, president and CEO of Internet2, and Shelton M. Waggener, CIO at University of California, Berkeley, to discuss Internet2's foray into the cloud.

Campus Technology: What is Internet2, and what is its mission?

Dave Lambert: Internet2 has been in place for 16 years and is owned by around 260 American universities, mostly Carnegie class 1 and 2 institutions, plus a few more specialized schools, that have a strong interest in providing leadership in building a community where their institutions' unique needs are met.

At the base level, Internet2 provides a specialized high-band network that interconnects universities, labs, federal agencies, and more. Over time, it will be connected to a number of other networks around the world. This allows scholars and researchers to communicate easily, which is especially useful for projects that require large bandwidth. In addition, members of the consortium benefit from a cost metric that is orders of magnitude less than buying commercial service a la carte.

We began to expand and focus on the development of Middleware to solve networking-aggregation issues. CIOs around the country began to turn to Internet2 to see what we were doing and how we could support them. We created a service that would provide security certificates to university members. By acquiring them in aggregate from providers, we created substantial savings for universities. On average, they save about $25,000 a year by participating in this aggregate program.

And then the CIOs stepped up and challenged Internet2 to find new services by aggregating our demands and needs. That got us started with our NET+ Services.

CT: What do CIOs--and their universities--want and need?

Shel Waggener: The CIO's perspective is eliminating the cost, cycle times, and association of engagement with individual vendors or products. NET+ has given us a forum, not only to bring together requirements but to discuss who's going to fulfill these requirements.

It's hard for a service provider to customize its product for one university. This way, we can define a more universal list of requirements, so a company can meet the needs of several universities with one offering. Then we can extend that offering in an easy way to any Internet2 member. A member of Internet2 can gain access to products or services that have been vetted.

Our community helps bridge the communication gap between individual universities that are consuming services and the enterprises that offer them.

DL: We're able to bring service providers into our infrastructure network, so they can gain access to universities. We can provide much higher access than they could otherwise easily achieve.

CT: How do you identify which services are needed most?

SW: The services offered are driven by the CIOs at research universities and are based on how they'd like to see those services tuned. Many of these tools already exist but are not fully coordinated [for institutional use]. With Box, for example, many members already use the service individually. But how do they work across those institutions? Do they get on-off privileges? These collaborations are bubbling up from individuals who say they need a solution.

Box has a collaboration platform that allows you to have individual plug-in applications. Storage is a feature as well. For example, Berkeley uses Box as a depository. So, instead of picking up a flyer, a student logs in using his Berkeley credentials, goes to the Berkeley Box space, and finds welcome information from the dean or information about his first week's activities. He can access it and then share it with others in that same group. The people that are using Box to access that information can all have Berkeley identities.

CT: So Box uses the cloud to give students across a university access to the same information. What about sharing information across several universities?

SW: Right now, if I want to use my Berkeley credentials with a system that's in place at University of Michigan, I can't do it. I'd need a U of M credential to access Michigan's Box space. We're looking at letting both collaborate using a third-party system with Box. We went into production [with early adopters] in January, so now if I create something at Berkeley, it's branded with a Berkeley logo; if someone logs in from a Michigan site and looks at my doc, he'll see it branded with the Berkeley logo even though he's accessing it from a Michigan Box space.

CT: What was the impetus behind offering cloud services?

DL: We've moved into the cloud to help offset the cost of conceptualization. The speed of innovation is no longer limited by local resources, but by your capability to consume many third-party solutions. MIT creates something and Stanford wants to use it. Before, this was laborious, if not impossible. Now, not only are universities consuming the same resources but jointly developing the technology. Then they can provide it to the rest of the university sector in a matter of hours--not the weeks, months, or years it would have taken in the past.

CT: When will this become available to members?

DL: The HP pilot is underway and will roll out soon.

CT: How will researchers and educators benefit from Internet2's cloud offerings?

SW: It's about collaboration. That's the future of education. An example might be a faculty member from the math department who works with an English professor to creates algorithms to analyze Shakespearean text. They'd never normally collaborate, but these collaborations are even more pronounced across universities. Many of the world's physicists are collaborating point-to-point between universities to share ideas.

Collaboration is a global phenomenon; advances in research and scholarship are a social phenomenon. Collaboration between individuals is no longer bound by geography and discipline, but by technical interference. Someone might ask, "You must have a Berkeley ID to log into a Berkeley system? So I have to give everybody at Yale who wants to log in a Berkeley ID?" That doesn't scale. We're all independent nodes in a larger system. We could all individually go to the service provider and sign our own contract. But that doesn't help break down the boundaries.

DL: That world already exists. How do we get IT to NOT be a barrier?

SW: IT needs to get out of the way. We are trying to connect faculty to faculty, students to students, faculty to students, even the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland to the University of Southern California. Our job is to grease those wheels and open up the channels for smooth communication.

The commercial default, on the other hand, is to lock consumers into fixed agreements that don't necessarily meet or grow with their needs.

DL: And aren't about sharing information. We certainly can't purchase commercial products at commercial rates and expect to keep up. IP protocols, search engines, World Wide Web--these all came from universities. We have no problem with companies building big business, but our needs are different.

SW: A typical high-speed internet in a home might offer a speed of 12 Mbps. We've just connected East Coast and West Coast universities with 1,000 times that capacity. What can they do with that? We don't even know yet.

I have a faculty member who wants to do dance recitals across three different cities with 3D projection. That's a computer scientist working with the dance department. That wasn't in the original plan for those departments. We've got to be ready for these unexpected collaborations.

This is an enormous economic engine for the country and the globe. We need to make sure we're finding ways for students to create the next thing. NET+ is a way to make these things happen

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