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Strategic Directions | Feature

Internet2: Building a Community for Innovation

A Q&A with Florence Hudson, Internet2's new senior VP and chief innovation officer

Internet2: Buildign  community for innovation

With 280 higher education institutional memberships, 80 corporate members, 42 regional and state networks, 70 affiliates and government agencies, and 65 international research and education networks that it connects to, Internet2's reach is expanding, and its work is as cutting-edge as ever.

This past week, Florence Hudson assumed her new role as Internet2's senior VP and chief innovation officer. Hudson will leverage her extensive experience fostering innovative work — she created IBM's Smarter Buildings strategy, developed that company's work with the Internet of Things, and through her work with organizations like NASA JPL, participated in many research collaborations with national laboratories. CT talked with Hudson about her new post at Internet2.

Mary Grush: For a long time we've seen Internet2 partnerships and collaborations that result in innovations and initiatives that expand the potential for technology to benefit education and the wider community. As Internet2's new chief innovation officer, how would you characterize this as it is now, and what are the opportunities moving forward? This is work that seems natural for the higher education and research communities especially, and it is important work for other Internet2 member organizations as well.

Florence Hudson: It really is. And I'm delighted and honored to enter this community. Just think of all the skill and knowledge, and all the wisdom and creativity — and the innovation that already occurs in this community. It's a very exciting time, and I think in fact a pivotal time for Internet2.

Within our membership, we're working with the academic community, both on the information technology side, and of course, on the research side, with, for example, deans of engineering and applied science, with deans or VPs of research, all in academia… add to that the incredible assets we have in national labs and research organizations, as well as in industry — Internet2 members like Cisco and IBM and a number of others. Given our membership, there's so much opportunity to drive more innovation together.

And we're very fortunate with the great innovation that has happened already, in the creation of the 100Gb network that we have as a base for Internet2. It's used to send big data all across the country and even around the world.

So, we have this very big pipe, which is wonderful, and we have great collaboration, which is excellent. Now, we're at the point of asking: How is this evolving?

Grush: Can you give me just a few examples of some of the newer things that the network is going to enable?

Hudson: Certainly. There has already been significant research and collaboration around genomics, for example, and work in areas like the U.S. Department of Energy and particle accelerator research. But beyond all that I think about what is going to happen with connected health care and health care data systems. How will we leverage clinical information and images, historical health data patterns, and at some point integrate that with the genomics data? There's a great opportunity for leveraging the network, to use a big pipe like we have at Internet2 for our research and education community. And, importantly, there are also opportunities for bringing all this to the next level.

Grush: In your new role as chief innovation officer, how will you anticipate future areas for collaboration?

Hudson: While we can easily see through observation that there has been a lot of work going on already with the network, on trust and identity, on the amount of data we're sending around, on storage, and more… still, I envision starting first with community input.

That's one of the key focuses I've been looking at. During my first week on the job, actually on my second day, I sent a note out to the entire community asking for them to provide their thoughts on what innovation areas we should be considering to work on as a community. We're still getting input, but interestingly, some of the big takes so far have been around end-to-end trust and identity — this means not just accessing what you're doing in a cloud or an application, but thinking about security in an area like connected health care and how to create that end-to-end view.

So, there are some ideas coming up already that I'm very excited about. It's really the strength of all the community together that makes us valuable both to the community itself and potentially to the wider world.

Grush: Can you tell me a bit more about Internet2's work on identity?

Hudson: This is a very important area. We have a somewhat newer initiative called TIER — which is 'trust and identity in education and research' — there is a collaborative group doing ongoing work on TIER. We also have InCommon, which was established much earlier and provides federated identity across a variety of different environments. We've already enabled TIER with a number of our members. TIER allows us to put some of the newer things on the table, such as trust and identity for health care devices. We also have other partners — one, Duo Security, creates multifactor authentication. I think you are going to see much more of a security and privacy focus in our work, especially as the Internet of things continues.

Grush: What about regulation?

Hudson: I think there's going to be more regulation that we'll need to look at and help people figure out what that means.

But still, where we can help most as a community is to work especially on security and trust elements between academia and research, with industry, to make sure that there's an open architecture through which we can provide the types of security required, based on the use case. Then if we're talking about critical infrastructure, like in a city, or about personal healthcare devices, those things can be secure.

So there's a lot to consider. We have a community that can help us think through these things and do the research and testing to determine what might be the most effective and efficient models.

Grush: How does Internet2 deliver value to non-member institutions or do outreach beyond its membership?

Hudson: Think for a minute about the 100Gb network. That was a collaborative investment of our members, but it can be leveraged by new members that join us. So, perhaps that will happen much more, particularly as we get into some new areas in which institutions might want to participate: end to end trust and identity, which we've already started a lot of work on; extending that thinking to the Internet of things, which was one of my big focus areas at IBM; and considering the whole data science area, where you have tons of data to manage in the cloud, whether that might be data concerning connected vehicles, health care devices, smart phones, or other types of sensors in smart cities. There are so many new innovations that will be created as we enable and optimize this new world we are heading into, and with that comes a wider reach.

Also, we create value for not only higher education institutions, but for K-12 as well. There are actually thousands of K-12 institutions that connect through some of our regional networks. And hospitals and many other types of organizations certainly leverage the work of Internet2. So we always start with the question of what could be of value to our membership, but then there is always value to others, and you begin impacting the world.

Grush: Internet2 also holds some events during the year — what is the next one?

Hudson: The Internet2 Global Summit is the next one. The meeting provides a really invaluable platform for the community to come together and discover ways that will ultimately transform the way research and scholarship are conducted. The program includes topics like big data; cloud services; security, trust, and identity; international network programs; global Internet governance; and the outlook for future research institution partnerships. The theme for 2015 is "Community — leading the way," which is an excellent tagline for how Internet2 has achieved its successes to date. It's a mantra we will certainly use as we innovate into the future as well. I'm looking forward to engaging directly with our community during the event, April 26 – 30 in Washington, DC.

Grush: Earlier you mentioned an open letter to the Internet2 membership asking for ideas about areas where the Internet2 community might focus its innovative energy. What could someone reading this article do, if they wanted to communicate their ideas with your office — even if they are from non-member institutions?

Hudson: We've set up [email protected] specifically for use by anyone who wishes to contact my office. We welcome ideas from nonmembers as well as from individuals at member institutions.

Grush: So as chief innovation officer, it seems like a big part of your role is to lead innovation by identifying it — by discovering and bringing to light the ideas of others.

Hudson: It's not about what I think is important. It's about how we decide as a community what's really important for Internet2 to do. I really thrive on community-based roles. I love building communities and have done that in every job I've had. This is really my element, and now I can leverage this knowledge and passion for the Internet2 community. Perhaps that's why to me this new role with Internet2 seems like such a natural fit — I feel like I'm exactly where I'm supposed to be.

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