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TNC day 1: Reflections on the future and assorted sessions

There was a musical start to the opening plenary presentation at this year’s TERENA Networking Conference (TNC 2008), in joking reference to the headset microphone worn by Professor Paul Van Binst (Free University of Brussels, ULB) as he took to the stage. This set the scene for an amusing and personal talk that encompassed some of the history of research and education networking, as well as some consideration of present and future trends.

With a series of entertaining examples to make the point, Professor Van Binst observed that users of present-day technologies and services of all kinds are generally willing to accept poor quality if the final functionality is something they like: sms messaging can require pressing three times on button ‘a’ in order to get letter ‘c’, for example, and we are happy to watch poor definition video footage online even though a large, high-quality TV set may be in the next room.

Behind the humour were some serious questions about the future of research networks. Do they need to develop more functionality? Should they think about a new business plan? Should they remain separate from other (public) services? If they do, will they die, be superseded by the more rapidly developing commercial sector, or continue alongside as a niche market?

Professor Van Binst’s presentation raised more questions than it answered, but he nevertheless succeeded in holding a mirror up to the research networking world and inviting it to consider where it is going.

Session highlights

Four sets of parallel sessions were running during the course of the afternoon. A session on ‘the general picture of identity management’ featured talks on a wide range of topics, including some aspects of IT law. Each country has its own methods in dealing with electronic identity and there is currently no reliable way to compare different authentication systems, nor any list of standards that should be met. IT lawyer Hans Graux argued that countries should liaise together to guarantee privacy and to exchange information about citizens wishing to have a presence in another country, rather than e.g., a lawyer having to register separately to practice in other countries.

During the same session, the song ‘Hotel California’ was quoted in connection with social networking sites such as Facebook and Myspace. In the hotel, “you can check out any time but you can never leave”, while with these sites you can disable your account but the information can never be deleted. These sites charge nothing but somehow make lots of money, said Giles Hogben (ENISA). To offer an alternative, he suggested that non-commercial companies could create a similar site run on open protocols, offering the same service but allowing users to know what is inside.

Finally, Ken Klingenstein (Internet2) explained how the COmanage tool gives users a single entry point through which they can access all the activities they are involved in. This will be particularly helpful for people involved in multiple projects or working in distributed environments such as Grids or short-term research activities.

During the session called, ‘What is Behind – Experimenting With The Network’, three experimental infrastructures for trialling new networking technologies were discussed. The MANTICORE project has finished but leaves some questions unanswered, which may be taken up by the new EC project FEDERICA. This was launched in January this year and was introduced to the TNC here for the first time. In parallel with FEDERICA is a US project, VINI, which is the first implementation of the National Science Foudation-funded GENI initiative. FEDERICA and VINI have similar principles and the project leaders explored how they could establish closer working ties.

Links

Archived video streams of all TNC presentations are available from http://tnc2008.terena.org/media/archive.php.

Most of the slides and some of the papers can be downloaded by clicking on the relevant session in the programme, at http://tnc2008.terena.org/schedule/.