The Lankan Education and Research Network (LEARN) is becoming a leader in improving network connectivity in the South Asian Region. With a rich history spanning over 30 years, the National Research and Education Network of Sri Lanka now connects local state universities, higher education and research institutions, and other academic bodies with the world. With this connectivity, LEARN has also launched several initiatives to strengthen collaboration between local and international academia and NREN engineers.
Amongst the latest of these efforts is the UPROUSEwithLEARN programme. Joining hands with APNIC, the Royal University of Bhutan, and the Laos Education and Research Network, LEARN is directly uplifting the NRENs of the two respective nations. Along the way, it’s also aiding several other countries in the region. The Principal Investigator of the Project, Prof. Roshan Ragel, and a member of Administrative Support from Sri Lanka, Engineer Thilina Pathirana were consulted to provide an insight into the programme and how Sri Lanka is helping the nations of Bhutan and Laos.
UPROUSEwithLEARN: Uplifting connectivity between universities
Speaking to Arteculate, Thilina shared, “It all began with a conversation I had with Sonam Penjor of Bhutan, who I had just met at a conference. He saw the work we had done with LEARN and requested me to conduct a training programme for the Bhutanese NREN. Overhearing this, Sotsay Sengvong made the same request on behalf of Laos.” It was from this fateful conversation that the UPROUSEwithLEARN initiative began to take shape.
The three of them then established the curriculum, objectives, and milestones for the programme under the guidance of Prof. Ragel. A proposal was soon pitched to and funding approved under a grant by the [email protected] project.
For the unfamiliar, the EU co-founded [email protected] project offers a dedicated regional high capacity and high-quality internet network, Trans-Eurasia Information Network (TEIN), for research and education (R&E) communities across Asia-Pacific and Europe, and leverages e-infrastructures developed for public service projects.
[email protected] is managed by the regional networking organisation TEIN*Cooperation Center (TEIN*CC). TEIN*CC was endorsed by the ASEM8 Summit in Brussels in October 2010. TEIN*CC actively collaborated with other regional R&E network organisations around the world to provide better opportunities for research and education to the TEIN community.
Having secured funding Sonam and Sotsay made the programme possible by taking the roles of Administrative Support for their respective countries. From the onset, the vision of the UPROUSEwithLEARN initiative was a simple yet bold one: upgrading the NRENs of both Bhutan and Laos. Towards making this vision a reality, the programme comprises a series of workshops followed by checkup meetings and evaluations. “From the inception, our focus was to uplift the networks of Laos and Bhutan. We’re not just conducting workshops but rather following up and assisting them in applying the knowledge inculcated,” shared Prof. Ragel.
Hence, the UPROUSEwithLEARN aims to build capacity, promote R&E collaboration, and provide technical backstopping for three primary areas of network development:
- IPv6 Implementation
- Network Security and Performance
- Domain Name System (DNS) and DNS Security
Adapting to a once in a century pandemic
The first workshop on IPv6 development was held in Laos in 2019; through 5 days of in-person seminars. “After the pandemic struck in 2020, the remainder of the programme was put on hold in hopes of being able to conduct them in person as well,” expresses Thilina. However, realizing that postponing further may be in vain, Prof. Ragel, Thilina, and the team at LEARN completed the second workshop online in August 2021 on Network Security and Performance, and have arranged the final segment for later this year.
Much like anyone experiencing a shift from in-person to online workshops with the pandemic, LEARN also had a fair share of challenges. Primarily, participants for the workshops reported outdated infrastructure and old devices which needed to be addressed first. To resolve this, funds that were previously allocated for travelling were utilised to obtain hardware and video conferencing systems to enable participants to join online. Afterwards, the content of the workshops was revised. From 8 hours of in-person meetings to 4-hour virtual sessions, without compromising on the content for the benefit of the participants.
Of course, conquering the challenges of delivering knowledge was one part of the equation. The next step was implementing it to improve the networks. Here, the challenge they faced was the absence of IPv6 support at the time. “Although the integration process was seamless for Bhutan, external parties like ISPs in Laos were yet to see the commercial value of technologies like IPv6 due to an underdeveloped internet space”. As such, it required the infrastructure in Laos to be overhauled to support IPv6.
In spite of these challenges, the shift towards online sessions has its merits. With the change to online delivery, Prof. Ragel highlighted that the workshops had seen an increase in the number of participants to more than double the number during the in-person sessions.
A Glimpse into Workshop III and Beyond with LEARN
The third and final workshop in the UPROUSEwithLEARN programme has been set for November/December 2021. “At present, the nations of Bhutan and Laos are found to only possess configurations for DNS with a complete lack of DNS security capabilities,” expresses Thilina. Therefore, this series of workshops will aim to train the network engineers to familiarize themselves and develop technology in these regions.
Ultimately, the UPROUSEwithLEARN is a landmark initiative that is the epitome of selfless growth in the region. While it’s uplifting the networks of Bhutan and Laos, the sessions saw participants from several countries including Afghanistan, Cambodia, Myanmar, Nepal, the Philippines and Vietnam. Thus, LEARN is laying the groundwork and working towards strengthening NRENs across the region, thereby enabling stronger collaboration between local, regional, and global academics and NREN engineers.