Yesterday I attended a meeting to discuss the future requirements for the JANET network. The conversation was wide ranging which was not surprising given the variety of institutions represented.
What was clear from the discussions was that the JANET network is very much a prized asset for the higher and further education sector and that there is a desire to ensure that this continues into the future and helps the UK maintain its position in global education market. It was recognised however that the current funding model is unlikely to be sustained; the days where the network will be largely funded by top slicing are coming to an end. I have been part of the discussion on the potential future funding options and there is still much to discuss. One solution suggested is that there will be a base level provision (which may be centrally funded) and a range of options that allow institutions to receive an enhanced service. Producing such a model that can be easily understood and administered will be a challenge.
The base level provision will need to be reviewed on a regular basis. The service will evolve – leading edge technologies for which institutions might be willing to pay a premium will become standard over time and perhaps should be brought into the base level offering. Equally other aspects of the service will become outdated and will need to be removed from the base level. The definition needs to be reviewed on a regular basis with the customer base to ensure that it remains current and appropriate.
There are opportunities for JANET (UK) to achieve economies of scale by working with other public sector bodies to provide network services in a region. This has already happened in Wales where the Public Sector Broadband Aggregation (PSBA) is connecting local authorities, police forces, museums, schools, universities and colleges. Whilst facilitating greater cooperation between universities, colleges and other organisations in their region it is as well to sound a note of caution. Firstly extended use of the network must not be to the detriment of universities and colleges. Secondly different authorities have different requirements; the governance arrangements must allow for potentially conflicting demands to be met or the conflict resolved. The lessons learned from the development of PBSA need to be applied to future regional agreements.
It is difficult to predict the future demands on the network. It is possible that there may be a step change in usage as more institutions move services away from central provision with greater adoption of shared or managed services. Alternatively a rapid growth in distance learning making use of multimedia facilities could drive a similar increase. Either way, close collaboration between JANET (UK) and its customers should allow the network to evolve to meet the growing complexity of the demands of its customers. It is pleasing to note that there is that willingness to collaborate and work together to maintain a quality product and drive the network forward.