I attended the third JANET Stakeholder Panel meeting today. The focus of today’s meeting was the JANET Service Level Agreement (SLA). I was concerned going into the meeting that the different university groupings represented would have very different requirements of the network with the result that it would be difficult to progress with defining what was required of the SLA. It is pleasing to report that there was consensus on the value of JANET to the education and research community and on the key challenges that JANET faces in meeting the demands of its customers.
The first key message was that JANET is not just a research network. Both the Russell Group and Research Councils representatives picked up on this, highlighting the importance of JANET in delivering business applications (including the VLE) across the network, the growing need to connect outsourced services whether large scale cloud providers such as Google and Microsoft or smaller concerns, and the role that JANET will need to play in delivering shared services. Representatives of other groups echoed this and what is essentially the UCISA view that the network is now critical to the whole higher and further education business. That said, the research community clearly places some demands on the network and their needs must also be represented. So the key priorities for all parties are bandwidth, resilience and reliability.
Network provision is only part of the JANET solution. There are a number of services beyond the core network that are equally critical to the sector as a whole and must be protected. The security service CSIRT is one, the work that the training section of JANET puts in is in my view another. So there is a need for any SLA to be both something that customers can understand and something that can be used to market the services and so protect what is a key asset for the education community in what will be challenging economic times.
It was recognised that different stakeholders have different requirements of a service level agreement and that this may drive an alternative approach. The funding bodies need to ensure that the service provided is reliable and delivering value for money. But the funding bodies are (at least) one step removed from the institutions who are the end customers for the JANET service. So there are perhaps two different documents or sections of the same document that are required. On one hand something to demonstrate to the funding bodies that all is well and on the other the need to define the services that are provided. The latter, a service catalogue, needs to be owned and driven by the end users – the institutions – and will change over the course of time as the customers help JANET in determining the services that have reached end of life, or become commercially available at a cheaper price. This should, in some way, be linked to the budget for the service. There will need to be some tough decisions made about what does and does not add value but equally it is important to protect the hidden gems in the overall JANET service.
There are clearly some challenges ahead. The move from regional to central provision presents JANET with one in that a number of institutions have more than the single connection that is funded under the current model. But no institution should consider outsourcing services if there is not resilience of two connections. What isn’t known and something that UCISA can seek to clarify is the number of dual (or more) connections and how they are paid for. In the stringent financial times ahead there may need to be some compromise on what can be centrally provided or it may be recognised that there is value in a central procurement to deliver separately routed dual connections to every university. Another is forming a body that can work with JANET to manage the service catalogue. There are a number of discussions that are held but there is no single focus for institutions, JANET’s end customers, to shape and contribute to what should be an evolving document. This is something UCISA could play a role in but clearly the use of JANET’s services extends beyond the higher and further education sectors.
Overall though a very positive meeting – a great deal of consensus and recognition that JANET is a key asset that must be protected.