Network resilience – tough choices ahead

The JANET Stakeholder Panel meeting yesterday touched on the issue of resilience in terms of network connectivity to the institution. JANET suggest that 110 higher education institutions have at least two connections to the JANET network. This confirms the study that UCISA carried out last year into network resilience but does not tell the whole story. Many of those institutions that do not have dual connectivity to JANET have secondary connections provided by commercial suppliers. The main reason for this is resilience although some have purchased commercial links for their own commercial or business and community engagement activities. The number of these connections may diminish as the revised JANET Connection and Acceptable Use Policies come into force.

The network has, however, only been funded centrally to provide a single connection to each HEI. The additional connections have been funded in a variety of ways through subscription the regional network operator, through funding council grants or in by the institutions themselves. The process to procure the next instance of the JANET network (SIX) has begun and the initial meetings with stakeholder groups have identified resilience, particularly resilience in terms of institutional network connectivity, as one of the main criteria. The premise for the current procurement is that a single connection to each institution is funded. If the procurement goes ahead on this basis then HEIs will need to pay separately for secondary connections (which largely they have done already although some of this was achieved with central grant funding) and so IT directors will need to make the business case within their own institutions. There have been various discussions on the future funding model for JANET. One suggestion was that there could be a core level of service that is provided to all HEIs with the option to then buy enhanced services. Secondary connections could be regarded as an enhanced service but with there being growing uncertainty over the funding of JISC and its services and the level of institutional contribution, there may be some institutions that are unable to afford the additional cost.

The higher education environment is changing and changing rapidly. More institutions are adopting cloud based services, students expect to access institutional resources from where ever they are and the shared services agenda continues to be promoted. All of which may suggest that a network that only provides a single connection to institutions is not fit for purpose; the expectation is that services and the network are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. What isn’t clear is how much it costs to add secondary connections for HEIs, or whether dual connectivity can be delivered cost effectively within the current procurement funding. The HEFCE review of JISC highlighted the need to review the governance of the JISC, to ensure that the Board has greater overall strategic responsibility for JISC and the companies that form it, including JANET(UK). One driver for this is to improve the relationship between JISC and its customers and to be more responsive to the needs of those customers. The JANET network is highly regarded and is a vital component of the national infrastructure. If secondary connections cannot be funded in the current model but the HEIs believe that having dual connections to JANET is essential to their businesses and is a criteria for a network being fit for purpose, will the JISC Board transfer the funds from other areas of JISC activity to pay for secondary connections and so meet the requirements of its major customers?

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