Think Local, Act Global

Posted by: Alex Bushell, Director, Strategic Policy and Analysis, CANARIE 

Many people are aware of the saying “think global, act local.” It’s the concept that change starts at home, whether it’s picking up litter at a local park, supporting local businesses, or volunteering for local charities.  

With the Global Research and Education Network (GREN), this model is turned on its head. The GREN is a network of global Research and Education (R&E) networks, providing connectivity to researchers and students across the planet. At CANARIE, we work closely with this GREN community, and these partnerships have tangible impacts on Canadian campuses across the country. 

Data Travels  

The original goal for CANARIE’s international engagement activities was to ensure robust connectivity with other partners in the GREN, so that Canadian researchers could access data and collaborate with peers around the world. With the increasingly international scope of research, this global connectivity is the foundation of scientific breakthroughs across all disciplines, whether for established heavy users of digital research infrastructure such as astronomy and high energy physics, or for less traditionally data-intensive fields, including the arts and humanities. 

Did you know: Over 40% of all traffic on the CANARIE Network is international.

Canada is also home to one of the world’s Global Exchange Points for research and education, MOXY, in Montreal. MOXY is possible thanks to CANARIE’s partnership with our peers in Europe and the United States and it’s what enables Canadian researchers to send their data directly to Europe. 

Friends Share 

With increasingly large datasets required across research disciplines, ensuring appropriate bandwidth while keeping costs low seems like a daunting task. But thanks to the Advanced North Atlantic (ANA) project, CANARIE, along with peer organizations in the U.S. and Europe, have managed to procure and share more trans-Atlantic Ocean connectivity than what a single organization could do individually. ANA has gone through numerous evolutions since 2013 to support significant data flows to and from European and North American research instruments, institutions, and people. 

ANA became a model for partnership in the GREN, and a similar model is now used for projects in other parts of the world. By working together, we receive a better return on our investment and can access multiple international cable systems (in case of a failure), leading to better connectivity for Canadian researchers. 

When Redundancy is a Good Thing…  

Redundancy often has negative connotations, but not in networking! In our case, it means building a network with multiple routes, so that the network can stay online even if one or more network paths go down. Redundancy is often paired with resiliency – the ability to continue or resume normal operations during disruptive events. Redundancy is a key tool to building resilience into our networks. 

While the CANARIE network has redundant links built into it, our international partnerships offer another layer of dependability for the Canadian R&E community. In summer 2021, significant flooding and mudslides cut off Vancouver and other parts of BC from the Canadian NREN – even with three different diverse links in place! Fortunately, our partnership with Internet2 in the US allowed us to rapidly create a temporary route for that traffic via the US. Without support from our friends at Internet2, a network outage like that could have taken weeks to repair and isolated researchers and educators whose work depends on the NREN. Friends are the best! 

I am Who I am Wherever I am  

Canadian institutions benefit from CANARIE’s international relationships for a lot more than ultra high-speed connectivity. Canadian researchers and students benefit from two identity services provided by CANARIE – eduroam and Federated Identity Management (FIM) – whose true value comes from their global deployment: eduroam allows students and faculty to have seamless access to Wi-Fi connectivity at campuses and other participating sites in Canada – and in over 100 other countries; FIM allows Canadian researchers and students to use their home institutions’ login credentials to securely connect to more than 2,900 global services, resources, and scientific facilities. This is made possible by interconnection with eduGAIN, the global federation of identity federations. 

The operation and evolution of these services globally is only possible due to international engagement by the various federation operators – e.g. CANARIE – and Canadians in turn benefit from new features, such as eduroam Visitor Access (eVA), that were first developed and rolled out by one of our international peers.  

Safety in Numbers  

Cyber crime is a major area of concern around the world, but the R&E community – with its mobile population, bring your own device policies, partnership programs, and non-enterprise IT systems – faces unique challenges in securing its user communities.  

But, while these challenges are unique to the sector, they are not unique to Canada. By leveraging our relationships with other R&E Networks around the globe, we’ve evolved CANARIE’s services. Last year, the NREN shared threat intelligence with related organizations in Canada, the US, Australia, and the UK, to prevent and mitigate cyberattacks against the sector. This is just one example of how, in facing the challenge of cybersecurity, we are always stronger together.  

Research related to the COVID-19 pandemic may have highlighted to those outside the R&E community just how international scientific discovery truly is, but it certainly wasn’t a new phenomenon – analysis by Nature suggests close to 25% of research papers in 2020 featured international collaborations; up around 10 percentage points since 2000. But those international research collaborations are only possible thanks to the almost invisible international networking collaborations supporting the GREN. That’s why when CANARIE thinks about how to support research and education on your campus, we serve you locally by acting globally.