AARNet readies for local megaconferencing

An upgrade of AARNet’s network later this year will put Australia’s academic institutions on the next-generation videoconferencing map with real-time collaboration of multiple parties, according to CEO Chris Hancock.

The capability will enable events similar to the international Megaconference, for which AARNet (Australian Academic and Research Network) acts as the Australian coordinator, and which is the world’s largest, simultaneous videoconferencing event.

“During the fifth annual Megaconference [2003] we were part of a link with 1000 people, 200 institutions, across 27 countries and five continents so that’s pretty outstanding in terms of communications,” he said.

“Also, the other day I saw a lecture on copyright law by a Stanford (US) professor when I was sitting in Yarralumla in Canberra that was linked to the ANU legal faculty [with] the QUT legal faculty; and [the quality is] good. So when you start to transfer that [application] to using our 10Gbps network you’re really talking about good [video] quality; that has enormous application for the market that we serve.”

Hancock, the former managing director of Optus’ wholesale business, is keen to introduce more AARNet member institutions to videoconferencing so they can collaborate more easily.

He said AARNet has to communicate the benefits of international videoconferencing to our client base because there are researchers sitting in institutions out there below the vice chancellor and below the executive team who probably think they are constrained. “But we’ve got a 10Gbps network that can be upgraded to 40Gbps so it’s not as if we are shy on capacity. [It's a matter of] getting into their minds that ‘now you can do this’ and you don’t need to be hamstrung.”

Hancock is optimistic that AARNet’s investment in new infrastructure will be well received by the academic community as “the feedback that I’ve had is that they haven’t had that invitation before”.

“AARNet is leading the way and really has the ability to be a cutting-edge enterprise that can experiment and do things with VoIP, megaconferencing, and IPv6 which are all important,” Hancock told Computerworld. “It’s early days. VoIP is key but I would also say that I’d that videoconferencing is important. Our grid technology gives a visual link to huge data sets; I’ve walked into a conference room with as many as 50 screens.”

The intercapital links (the domestic network) is set to be completed by August with the regional network established by the end of the year. Hancock said various education authorities and parts of the school sector are approaching AARNet to provide links with other schools and become part of its network. During the next six months AARNet will be working through requests such as, ‘what can we do to have a megaconference between three schools’ and ‘how can we trial that’, he said. “The AARNet network will prove to be a good catalyst for that sort of project.”

Once the network is completed, AARNet will introduce a new pricing scheme to give “a more open-slather or unlimited model, driving the research traffic up to the front gate of the university”, Hancock said.

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