4.3 La geopolitica del GARR
4.3 The geopolitics of GARR
Enzo Valente


Extract of the interview pubblished on Punto Informatico (PI) to Enzo Valente (EV), April 7th 2006

    PI: Those who care about development of research, or Research, know the importance of new generation nets to connect centres and laboratories all over the world. But why should we invest to extend the new networks to countries in the Mediterranean basin?

  • EV: Because it's in our own interest.
  • PI: How?
  • EV: Because we have many things to learn, knowledge to exchange.
  • An easy example is the Algerian meteorological research centres, which we can only dream about.
  • Another example is monitoring and analyses of the Sahara: today we can use data gathered at most months after certain events to understand what happened.
  • If we had a fast network we could find out almost in real time what their sensors reveal, and analyze the data.
  • PI: So it's a question of reciprocity...

  • EV: Sticking to the same example, we still depend today to a considerable extent on data coming from Reading in the UK: if however we had access to Algerian data we would have much more precise information than we have now.
  • This is a development that benefits everybody: they could combine European data with their own. Reciprocity as in we give to them, they give to us.
  • They could develop technologies that can be integrated with European ones and this process could also be mutual and advantageous.
  • Our job is to help train people in these areas, technicians and engineers, so that they can develop for themselves everything that goes with the new culture of networking and of research using dedicated technologies.
  • PI: But aren't there already many forms of collaboration in place?

  • EV: Certainly, but researchers in many Mediterranean countries have many problems, travelling for example.
  • For many, between acquiring a visa, which may take a couple of months, and the costs involved, etc., it is practically impossible to go abroad.
  • With new networks all this would change: we could collaborate much more actively and much more rapidly.
  • At a recent meeting in Istanbul, for example, it took a researcher from the university of Gaza 6 days to get there and 6 more to get back: a good part of this was just negotiating roadblocks in Gaza.
  • These are the things that make you realize how network connections and grid computing are important.
  • They allow us to exchange data and allow people in certain countries access to calculation resources much more powerful than their applications.
  • PI: How has the training you provide proved useful?

  • EV: Our courses deal not only with networking in the strict sense, but also with grid middleware: they too have scientific applications but they don't have the machines to run them, nor the network to exchange data, never mind the processing power.
  • PI: How can we contribute to resolving this backwardness in network infrastructure?

  • EV: This is the basis of the initiatives we are undertaking along with our partners, both in the European Union and European scientific community, who join the new programmes approved by the Commission.
  • In those Med countries there is often a problem in the market, where telecommunications are generally dominated by monopoly providers, in situations we find difficult to relate to: the Moroccan telephone network formally belongs to the king, by statute, this has always been the case.
  • Our very presence also works as a gentle pressure against these barriers, for example there is now in Morocco a law that has drastically reduced costs for research networks.
  • PI: So you find local governments show an interest in development of infrastructures?

  • EV: Yes, local governments are very aware of the need. At the WSIS summit in Tunis there was much discussion on the subject, and some people began to set up external agencies for monitoring the TLC sector, like our own Agcom.
  • Our presence has knock-on effects, more than pressure I'd say it is an invitation to change, to open up.
  • PI: The European projects you participate in are ambitious: in addition to linking up the Mediterranean, as far as the Middle East, you also want to strengthen co-operation with China, a country particularly difficult to deal with, from many points of view. How do you go about it?

  • EV: The problems are many and varied. In China there is a research network managed by the Academy of Science.
  • At the same time there is the Universities Network, controlled by the Ministry for Universities. The former is used exclusively by researchers, all known to the authorities and already to some extent screened, and there is a certain freedom of movement, but the latter, which is accessed by students, has many restrictions and controls.
  • Our difficulties arise because in order to contact the research institutes we are obliged to pass through the university network first.
  • PI: What kind of developments can you hope for from these relations with China?

  • EV: I'll give you an example. Italy is running an experiment, Argo, in Tibet.
  • It is linked by fibre optic to networks that reach Lhasa, which is well connected to Beijing.
  • But the scientific data from our cosmic ray sensors are recorded using inadequate procedures and instruments, subject to controls and reduction in speed that prevents arrival in real time: so we cannot monitor the apparatus from Italy, we have to go there personally, or send one of our Chinese partners.
  • PI: Hmm, not an ideal collaboration…

  • EV: Let's say that there is a whole string of difficulties due to the approach of the Chinese government. For example when we wanted to go to discuss the project EU-China-GRID, we had to restrict the size of the delegation, and for a larger delegation, to return in June, we have already started to request visas.
  • On the other hand certain meetings must be face to face.
  • To a certain extent they have made things easy for us: no-one so far has been refused a visa and we can even get one without going to the Chinese embassy in Rome.
  • In fact, we do have some credit in China, and Chinese-Italian relations go back quite a bit.
  • PI: Coming back to the Mediterranean, what's next on the agenda?

  • EV: Coming up is the framework programme EUMEDConnect III, we are already working on version II.
  • This one however, instead of connecting the countries of the Mediterranean area to Europe, one by one, will tackle interconnections between the countries themselves, a "MED-Belt" for Mediterranean countries.
  • This project is enthusiastically supported, also in Israel and Syria. It will take seven years and should be approved by the Commission as part of the next framework programme.
  • PI: Are these projects supported by the Italian government ?

  • EV: No, for years now there has been no government funding: the GARR network is self-supporting thanks to the universities and research centres.
  • In the past we had some financing but we don't foresee any more from the state.
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