In the heart of Colombo, Sri Lanka, the 56th Asia-Pacific Advanced Network Meeting (APAN56) was recently organised by LEARN, Sri Lanka’s National Research and Education Network (NREN). This gathering, a testament to Sri Lanka’s growing role in fostering regional cooperation, brought together researchers and NREN personnel across the Asia-Pacific region. Over 5 days, APAN56 showcased a diverse array of 79 distinct sessions, ranging from insightful plenary keynotes, thought-provoking discussions among its working groups, the inaugural APAN conference spotlighting innovative research, an active datathon for undergraduates, and collaborative sessions among NREN leaders. Thus, it was not merely a convergence of minds but a platform that propelled collaborative research and innovation, promising to leave a lasting imprint on the Asia-Pacific region.
Amidst this backdrop, APAN56 proved to be a resounding success, drawing several participants from 28 countries within the APAC region and beyond. Crucially, hosting APAN56 was a momentous opportunity for Sri Lanka, yielding a spectrum of advantages for the nation’s researchers. Speaking to Arteculate Asia, Consultant CTO of LEARN and Local Organizing Committee Chair of APAN56, Dr. Asitha Bandaranayake, articulated the profound benefits of this international gathering. He highlighted how hosting APAN56 exposed Sri Lanka to a cadre of top-tier researchers from the Asia-Pacific region. Sri Lanka’s role as the host allowed its researchers to glean invaluable insights, learn from global best practices, and explore the potential applications of these learnings within their local context. LEARN, in particular, supported 60 local researchers in attending APAN56, thus igniting a spark of curiosity and innovation that can lead to transformative changes in Sri Lanka’s research landscape.
Driving Continuous Progress: The APAN Working Groups
At APAN56, a wide range of working groups gathered to have productive discussions and work together on solving challenges. Currently, APAN has 13 working groups, each focusing on specific areas of technology and its applications. These working groups offered a special platform where various experts such as researchers, educators, network specialists, and decision-makers could deeply explore different technical fields. Here’s a closer look at the discussions held by some of these working groups during APAN56:
- Networking Group: Organising four pivotal sessions, each addressing key topics. The first session covered cutting-edge Network Technology trends. The second session featured a panel discussion on the state of the internet today, where it was highlighted that NRENs should have bigger participation in governance and addressing challenges like cybersecurity, scaling, and the complementary role of NRENs to commercial internet. The third session consisted of lightning talks by several speakers offering global insights. The fourth session focused on the crucial need for cooperation across different groups.
- APAN Identity and Access Management Task Force: Hosting 3 diverse sessions, exploring a variety of research topics, which include multi-factor authentication, metadata driver configuration, and establishing baseline expectations with REFEDS Entity Categories. These sessions demonstrated the group’s commitment to advancing identity and access management practices.
- APAN Medical Working Group: With a remarkable presence, this group conducted 15 sessions featuring 64 presentations from 16 countries, reaching nearly 500 virtual participants. Their topics ranged from dentistry and surgery to natural products and innovative technologies, emphasising the group’s dedication to diverse medical research.
- Open & Sharing Data Working Group (OSDWG): Chaired by Dr. Veerachai Tanpipat, this group organised a session on “The Broader Perspective and Practical Action on Open Science.” During the session, the speakers shared invaluable insights: on the topics of open science, data stewardship, and culture changes. The Working Group also explored potential collaborations with the National Science Foundation of Sri Lanka.
- Disaster Management Working Group: Coordinating two sessions, the working group showcased its efforts towards sustainability by presenting case studies and providing updates on initiatives related to monitoring wildfires and lightning strikes. Additionally, two new areas of exploration emerged at APAN56: health-related research and the applications of earth-observation data. Looking ahead, the Disaster Management Working Group is committed toward translating the findings from its case studies into practical services.
- AI Networking Group: Focusing on network protection through AI, this working group explored several research topics, which included the role of AI in quantum networks, network intelligence research using AI, the application of machine learning to service network platform control, and more. These discussions at APAN56 highlighted the possibilities at the intersection of AI and networking, promising to reshape the network security landscape.
Revisiting the Insightful Keynotes of APAN56
Beyond the insightful discussions among working groups, APAN56 also featured a trio of distinguished keynote speakers who delivered insightful addresses on themes central to the event. These keynote speakers, each a luminary in their respective domains, enriched the discourse at APAN56, inspiring attendees with their knowledge and perspectives. Below is a synopsis of the three keynote presentations delivered during the opening and closing plenary sessions of APAN56.
The Transformative Impact of NRENs Collaborating
In his keynote at the opening plenary of APAN56, Senior Enterprise Architect Research & Education – NTT Germany and former CEO of NORDUnet, Rene Buch, articulated the transformative potential of NREN collaboration, particularly for emerging NRENs, in the context of national and regional development. His message was clear: when NRENs join forces, the resulting benefits ripple through various dimensions. One prominent advantage is cost savings and risk reduction as NRENs synergise resources and expertise. Moreover, their collective voice gains resonance on the regional stage, bolstering advocacy for academia and research. Beyond connectivity, NRENs offer tailored solutions to cater to academia’s unique needs, fostering an environment that fuels knowledge development and industry diversification. This distinctive approach sets NRENs apart from private ICT providers and fuels innovation at the nexus of academia and industry. Rene’s keynote serves as a guiding beacon for NRENs, illuminating the path towards advancing research, education, and regional progress through collaborative endeavours.
Harnessing the Potential of Sri Lankan Agriculture
At the APAN56 closing plenary, the Chairman of the National Science Foundation of Sri Lanka, Senior Prof. Ranjith Senaratne, delivered an insightful keynote on unlocking the untapped potential of Sri Lanka’s agriculture. He emphasised the evolving role of modern agriculture, extending beyond food to encompass feed, fibre, energy, nutraceuticals, cosmeceuticals, and biotechnological products. In the Sri Lankan context, agriculture consumes 40% of the land and 80% of its freshwater resources and is now facing several challenges throughout the value chain. To resolve these issues, Prof. Senaratne advocated a transformative shift towards increased productivity, resource efficiency, resilience, environmental sustainability, waste reduction, and profitability. This transformation necessitates the integration of various technologies, from ICT and the Internet of Things to AI, Big Data, and drones. While technology plays a pivotal role, Prof. Senaratne highlighted the value of preserving indigenous knowledge. Achieving this ambitious transformation, he continued, is essential to establish a knowledge-driven circular agriculture sector capable of enhancing production and driving sustainable development across Sri Lanka.
Securing the Future of Agriculture with Technology
The next keynote at the APAN56 closing plenary delivered by Vice Chancellor of Wayamba University of Sri Lanka, Senior Prof. Udith K. Jayasinghe Mudalige, delved into the complex dynamics of agriculture. He highlighted the pressing issues affecting food production and farming practices, driven by factors like population growth, urbanisation, changing demographics, and resource competition. By 2050, with a projected global population of approximately 10 billion, the demand for food will escalate significantly. As incomes increase in low to middle-income countries, their society will witness changing dietary habits, with increased consumption of meat, fruits, and vegetables over cereals, which will compound the challenge. Crucially, despite the overall progress, persistent poverty in rural areas threatens food security for many by 2030. Furthermore, declining agricultural sector shares in production and employment pose challenges for securing investments and technological advancements across regions. To address these issues, innovative approaches like Climate-Smart Agriculture and Agro-Ecology are crucial, ensuring sustainable food production while safeguarding land and water resources. Prof. Mudalige underlined the importance of drawing from traditional farming practices and implementing forward-looking policies to secure food access in a rapidly changing world.
Enabling Collaboration Between NRENs across the APAC Region
APAN56 embraced a dedicated focus on promoting collaboration among NRENs, recognising their pivotal role in advancing research and education across the Asia-Pacific region. One of the integral facets of this collaborative drive was the host of governance meetings for the Asi@Connect Project during APAN gatherings. These encompassed critical sessions such as the Asi@Connect Steering Committee Meeting, the Asi@Connect Seminar and Forum, the Asi@Connect CEO Meeting, and the prominent Asi@Connect Governors Meeting. These gatherings provided a platform for decision-makers of the Asi@Connect project to strategise, share insights, and shape the future of their collaborative efforts. Beyond these sessions, LEARN also organised two more gatherings of NREN leaders at APAN56.
The first of these new sessions by LEARN at APAN56 was the Emerging NRENs Forum, a vital session where emerging NRENs shared valuable insights, best practices, and solutions for the challenges they encountered. The discussions revolved around accelerating NREN development in emerging economies or regions, emphasising the importance of sustainable business models and robust technical infrastructure. This forum acted as a catalyst for fostering growth and innovation within emerging NRENs.
Furthermore, the APAN REN Leaders Forum was another exclusive assembly of C-Level executives and decision-makers from RENs across the region, providing a high-level platform for strategic deliberations. The inaugural REN Leaders forum at APAN56 featured keynote sessions and interactive discussions, enabling REN leaders to exchange ideas and strategies to empower researchers across the Asia-Pacific region. Moving forward, LEARN envisions these forums being recurring events of future APAN Meetings, fostering a collaborative spirit that would shape the future of research and education networks.
The APAN Conference: A Platform for Researchers
A new addition to the APAN Meetings by LEARN was the APAN Conference. Under the overarching theme of “AI and HPC: Better together,” this conference served as a dynamic platform to explore the synergies between AI and High Performance Computing. The conference featured two keynote speeches, open to all participants, by experts in the field, enriching the discourse and inspiring attendees with their visionary insights. One distinctive hallmark of this conference was its collaboration with Springer, a globally renowned academic paper publisher. This strategic partnership provided a robust platform for the dissemination of high-quality, peer-reviewed research, setting a new standard in the APAN Meetings.
Charting the Future with AI-Driven Simulations
The first keynote speaker at the inaugural APAN Conference was Senior Director and Chief Solution Architect at the NVIDIA AI Technology Center, Prof. Simon See. His talk was titled “High-Performance Simulation in the Age of AI,” which is a rapidly growing field with the potential to transform several industries. During the keynote, Prof. See spotlighted the convergence of digital twins, generative AI, and the metaverse. He went on to share how generative AI applications like ChatGPT and Stable Diffusion are set to democratise the creation of digital twin simulations and 3D interactive environments. The maturation of digital twins, as detailed in his speech, encompasses a journey from a “representative” digital twin to a “connected” digital twin, culminating in a “live data” twin. This final stage of this evolution involves real-time data collection from the physical world, enabling dynamic updates to the simulation. Notably, AI’s role in digital twins extends to predictive maintenance, process automation, and optimisation. While the full realisation of detailed digital twins for complex systems remains a work in progress, their deployment accelerates time-to-market for various applications and use cases.
Introduced to the World’s First Large-Scale Open AI Infrastructure
The next keynote speaker at the APAN Conference, a Senior Researcher at Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST), Dr. Ryousei Takano, introduced the world to AI Bridging Cloud Infrastructure (ABCI), a groundbreaking open AI infrastructure. Operated by AIST since its inception in August 2018, ABCI has rapidly evolved over five years. Initially catering to AI startups, it now empowers a broad spectrum of industries, serving as a crucible for world-class AI research and development. Importantly, it has emerged as a linchpin in Japan’s AI research landscape. As this technology gains traction, large-scale AI infrastructure like ABCI takes on increasing significance. Dr. Takano’s keynote underscored the pivotal role such infrastructures play in propelling AI research and development to new heights and pushing the boundaries of innovation.
Spotlighting Innovative Research in AI and High-Performance Computing
Following the opening keynotes, the subsequent sessions of the APAN56 Conference provided a platform for researchers to showcase their groundbreaking work. In the first session, the spotlight was on Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, where seven researchers presented their findings. Their research topics ranged from 3D wireless localisation with IoT devices to transforming night-time images into day-time to exploring the potential of machine learning to predict severe cases of tuberculosis and coronary heart disease, among other applications.
The second session of the APAN56 Conference delved into accelerated computing and distributed systems, featuring four presentations. Here, the research topics explored were real-time IoT for a Multi-Cloud Factory Vehicle Monitoring System, a novel blockchain consensus protocol enabling high-performance computing and AI in space sciences, and the journey of scaling up Galaxy, a browser-accessible workbench for scientific computing. Finally, the third session of the conference explored research in communications and networking. It opened with a guest presentation from a Senior Engineer at Sri Lanka Telecom, Anuradha Udunuwara, who explored AI’s role in telecom software. Following the presentation, the researchers presented their papers, which covered a range of topics around networking. Collectively, these sessions underscored the diverse and dynamic research landscape driving innovation in the Asia-Pacific region and beyond.
APAN56 Datathon: Giving Undergraduates Global Recognition
At APAN56, LEARN introduced a groundbreaking addition: the APAN56 Datathon. The initiative offered a platform for undergraduate students specialising in various technology fields such as Computer Science, Cybersecurity, Data Science, Information Systems, and Software Engineering. The objective was clear: to encourage participants to harness their creativity, skills, and teamwork in the realm of real-world business data challenges. Co-organized by esteemed institutions, including the University of Colombo School of Computing, the University of Moratuwa, the University of Peradeniya, and the University of Jaffna, this 24-hour Datathon welcomed participants from diverse state and private tertiary educational institutions.
Over a 24-hours, participating teams embarked on a simultaneous journey, developing innovative solutions that would later be individually judged, fostering a sense of camaraderie and competition. Beyond the academic sphere, the Datathon sought to expose undergraduate students to real-world data, nurturing their innovation, teamwork, and problem-solving skills. Simultaneously, it offered businesses an opportunity to share their data with these bright minds, enabling the development of solutions that added tangible value and foresight to their operations. In essence, the APAN56 Datathon stood as a testament to the power of knowledge, collaboration, and innovation, forging a bridge between academia and industry.
Reflecting on the Success of APAN56
In reflection, the 56th edition of the Asia-Pacific Advanced Network Meetings (APAN56), hosted by Sri Lanka’s LEARN, served as a significant nexus for international collaboration, innovation, and knowledge exchange. Bringing together several participants from 28 countries, APAN56 transcended geographical boundaries to foster a vibrant and diverse community of stakeholders. At the core of APAN56 were a myriad of sessions and activities, each contributing to the event’s multifaceted character. These sessions spanned a wide spectrum, from the pioneering work of working groups pushing the boundaries of technology to the inaugural APAN Conference showcasing cutting-edge research. The three enlightening keynote plenary sessions added intellectual depth and breadth to the event.
Furthermore, APAN56 provided an invaluable platform for NRENs across the APAC region to collaborate, share insights, and establish sustainable models, underscoring the event’s commitment to nurturing growth within the networking community. The collaborative ethos extended to the APAN Datathon, where undergraduate students showcased their creativity, innovation, and teamwork while crafting real-world solutions. Crucially, Sri Lanka, as the host nation, reaped substantial benefits from its pivotal role in APAN56. These included exposure to top-tier researchers, enhanced technological support for research initiatives, and economic contributions from foreign delegates. Ultimately, APAN56 was not merely an event but a testament to the power of collaboration, innovation, and the limitless potential of networking within the Asia-Pacific region and globally.