Useful Flexibilities for African Regional Research and Education Networks
Martin, Duncan H.
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The UbuntuNet Alliance is conceived of as an association of NRENs in a given region. The hierarchy Institutions → NRENs → Regional RENs characterises what may be called “the standard REN model”. Regional RENs provide transit to their member NRENs and interconnect with each other over interregional distances. The standard REN model expects no more of any Regional REN. The standard REN model evolved principally in Europe. In the writer’s view, the circumstances of African countries are too widely disparate for continued as-is adoption of the standard REN model. Greater flexibility is needed to allow UbuntuNet and other Regional RENs of Africa to serve universities that can be reached but are not yet served by an operational NREN. For example, some countries simply have too few universities to sustain the overhead costs or engender the significant buying power of an NREN. To overcome this, Regional RENs could offer a “catch-all” REN service to individual institutions that are not served by a recognised NREN. Some African countries are too large, too diverse culturally and/or too patchy in their infrastructural development to enable the ready establishment of a single NREN. Instead, collaborative REN organisations could be established at the sub-national level, and Regional RENs should accept such “District RENs” as legitimate customers. A Regional REN could also act as a proxy NREN in a country in which the universities use commercial ISPs but no organised NREN has emerged, and so facilitate the founding of a real NREN.