Talk:Report on Global Education and Research Networks
Fast Thinking a Research and Educatiuon Network Renaissance
I. A Global Collaborative Operating System and Infrastructure as a Different Foundation for the Internet
Fast Thinking a Research and Education Network Renaissance portrays the development of what I choose to call “a global collaborative operating system” based on optical networks which are lit and managed by their users. This federated system of user-lit optical networks is becoming a global infrastructure that I contend will emerge as the circulatory system holding civilizations together on all the continents much is the sea lanes provided the opportunity to do so in the four centuries between the Renaissance and the replacement of sea lanes by airways as a part of the global industrial system in the 20th century.
In 2011 the collabortive OS is in what I would call an early operational stage. I describe its multiple layers and protocols at a technical level as well as from the operational point of view, where national research networks are beginning to release collaboration interfaces for their users and to refine the connective glue offered by the virtual organizations of various grids that enable researchers to plug into the resources they need to do their work.
In this book I take a broader view than what its architects may have intended. I see the new application tools that I describe as a means to enhance communication and collaboration among researchers and networked communities as well as social groups. These groups are all trying, in independent and yet parallel ways, to bring cooperation and collaboration into research, teaching, and economic activity as a whole.
The new OS invites its users to create the new knowledge that google helps others to find.
The work the research and education network architects are doing is designed to raise the productivity of their customers in the most powerful and cost effective manner. However, I believe that what they are doing also has the potential to mitigate the most undesirable directions of the solely profit-oriented capitalism of the past century. But proving this will be a challenge. For observing what is happening and trying to make sense of it all, is rather like riding the crest of a breaking wave and trying to figure out how the currents will arrange themselves. Nevertheless, the effort is one that I believe should be undertaken with the hope that it will further a more widely-held understanding of the kind of civilized future in which we should all want to be investing. We all need to become customers of the R and E Network designers.
To understand this new world it is necessary to grasp what a full-fledged optical-network-based, research and collaboration networtk ecosystem looks like. This book describes the Netherlands version and with continued buildouts by Internet2, ESnet and US UCAN, it also shows what it should look like in the USA. Having done so, it is time to make more people aware of what is happening and the possibilities inherent in what this accomplishment can enable within SURFnet, the GLIF and Internet2 in the United States.
In my judgement describing just the technology without examining its possible impact on the world to which it is applied is not worth while. Therefore the beginning and the end of this work, that is the preface and chapter 1 and chapters 17 – 19 contain my political and economic framing for the global optical collaborative infrastructure.
The Global R and E Infrastructure
A group known as the Global Lambda Integrated Facility has evolved to the point where it meets twice a year to coordinate the interconnection of most of the world’s research and education networks. A national R&E network cannot stop at a bnational boundary. Therefore the GLIF exists to ensure the light paths intyer connection of the world’s R & E netwoirks. What I call a global cooperative operating system has been overlaid on top of photonic networks operating at layer 1 and 2 and connecting to layer 3 on an as-needed basis. The primary thing being done within the GLIF is the provisioning of large optical links of 1 Gb and above to members on an as needed basis.
The Research and Education networks of North America Europe and Asia are building an overlay infrastructure designed to facilitate globally diverse research projects that lie across all disciplines of learning. However not surprisingly, these are ones that start out needing high-end instruments like radio telescopes or the large hadron collider and large amounts of computational power to be applied to massive acquisition of data. Consequently, the research and education network operators in each country are doing two things in parallel. First they are providing what they call collaboration infrastructure systems. Named coManage in the case of Internet2 and conNext in the case of Surfnet. These systems are designed as an organizational infrastructure to take the eligible research and education populations of each country and provide the mechanisms for authenticated connection and authorized use of the R&E networks. This is covered in chapters two, three and four.
Processing poweer, storage facilities and access to instruments
In parallel to this each national research and education network offers an entire ecosystem of computational and storage facilities to its authorized users. These facilities range from a small computational cluster of two or three machines in a single university department; to groups of clusters connected together in such a way as to form computing grids and finaslly to a smaller but still vital network of supercomputers ranked at national and global levels. Grid applications are the vital glue that holds together access to instruments computing power and storage resources in such a way as to enable first dozens and then hundreds of smaller more specialized researchers to access the shared network computational and storage facilities needed to do their own specialized research.
These grids –- see chapters 5 through 9 -- are organized through various national and transnational grid projects. This evolving optical network infrastructure is making possible entirely new approaches to what is known as fourth paradigm or data intensive science. Toolsets–referred to as e-science– are being developed to be applied by researchers within their respective grid infrastructures to make massive data extraction and manipulation with respect to the scientific discipline at hand possible in ways that could never before be attempted. Right now the grids require a considerable amount of intercession by researchers who are skilled at both in the specific discipline and in the networking and computational aspects needed to apply high-performance computing tools to the discipline.
Most researchers are plugged in to this global optical infrastructure by means of their ability to use their national collaboration infrastructure to gain access to the network and the appropriate tools by forming what is known as a virtual organization that might mean creating a small group of a half-dozen or dozen researchers or it might mean joining an international group numbering in the thousands. In this example the group is likely composed of high-energy physicists involved in analyzing the massive amounts of data through the global large hadron collider private optical network which in effect is also a global grid.
In every case efforts are underway to make the connection of researchers to the network tools as seamless as possible with a metaphorical point of view that it be rather like transitioning from the early disk operating system to them much more user-friendly Macintosh OS X graphical user interface that Apple has built on top of UNIX over the last decade. the ultimate idea is that the scientist needs to know little, indeed almost nothing about the network tools underneath that make possible research approaches that could only have been dreamt about a few years ago.
Chapters 10 through 15 are discipline specific case studies of grid based research in the life sciences ranging from genomics an molecular biology to bird migration studies. As well as the humanites and social science in the UK to the recent revisioning of the architecture of the global LHC grid. Chapter 16 is an interview with the new CEO of Internet2 focusing on Internet 2s role building the USUCAN network.
II The Global high End Infrastructure in the United States has an opportunity to be extended to Community Anchor Institutions
For the first time I have made a great deal of effort to summarize what is being done in the United States as well as elsewhere in the world. I provide a lot of information about the brand-new awards to Internet2 and to the middle mile networks of many states that for the first time will extend the benefits of these optical collaborative networks outwards to Community Anchor Institutions in the United States. These institutions are being defined as schools, libraries, hospitals, city government, museums, performing arts organizations and the like. I’m very much in favor of this although, since it has not really been done in this country before, it undoubtedly will need and I hope will receive a great deal of conscientious effort.
The scarcity model of bandwidth vanishes in this new world in which the high end university based center transfers its technology to the local economies via circulatory system of US UCAN
I have covered the organization known as the GLIF [Global Lambda Integrated Facility] in more depth here than I think it has ever been covered elsewhere. I do so because the organization is both a skillfully constructed and federated version of interests that exists in order to make it possible for otherwise independent national networks to develop in such a way that their optical networks will interoperate with each other as completely and fully as possible. The mutually-agreed-on goal of the resulting virtual organization is that the participants can cooperatively shape and then use and benefit from a rapidly spreading global system of interoperable lightpaths. These networks are creating an infrastructure by means of which it is to be hoped will enhance the ability of members to communicate, cooperate, and assist each other in difficult political and economic environments with which the post-economic-collapse global civilization is currently faced.
I show in some detail how these new systems will work. Federated mechanisms of identity management will connect ultimately millions of users with software and tools that they are authorized to use. They will be enabled to set up and tear down globally based virtual organizations to accomplish their agreed-upon tasks. Speaking for myself, I hope that by use of these unprecedentedly powerful networks and the largely open source software and tools built into the infrastructure, to the extent possible, they will tear down political and corporate silos. These are the silos whose previous economic raison d’être seems to have been designed to inhibit the widespread inter-organization collaboration necessary to resolve the problems facing their respective societies.
I also address a more ambitious goal. I am seeking to establish whether or not there is, or can be, a community-of-interest between the high-end research groups and a rapidly growing grassroots “edge”. These are efforts of small communities of mostly younger people located currently at the edges of 20th century large corporate-based capitalism. This is an archaic capitalism that is being challenged on all levels and is very likely unsustainable for many reasons – political, economic, resource-based, ecological, and a general inability to manage the emergence of new networked technologies that undermine the sustainability of the old centrally-based, hierarchical, corporate mechanism. I begin this discussion with my Preface and Chapter 1 which point out the capture and corruption by financial elites of the political and social infrastructure of especially the United States, and only to a somewhat lesser extent Europe and most of the developed world.
To do this I use the analysis of John Robb and his blog Global Guerrillas, as well as the broad community-of-thought represented by Michel Bauwens in his Peer-to-Peer Foundation that seeks to organize a globally-based effort on behalf of the open-source knowledge -commons. Increased awareness of these new technologies has spread in such a way as to place the future locus of economic and political sustainability within local communities rather than where they are currently located namely in the capitals of what Robb calls the “hollowed-out nation states.”
These are states where the political classes have given in to the interests of globally based corporations and a global banking system. A year ago I would not have said this but I do say it now: Both banking and corporate and military-industrial sectors (one need only read Chalmers Johnsons’ last four books on the military) exist primarily to increase the wealth of their executives and shareholders. The banks, by capturing the political system within the boundaries of each state, have, with the collapse they brought about in 2008, made it no longer possible to maintain the economic and social safety-net by which their respective governments have established their legitimacy among their respective peoples. It seems likely that the enormous debt buildup within these states will lead to breakdowns of their central authority and may leave the world fragmented in such a way that long-term sustainability may be found only in what many thinkers are beginning to call “resilient communities.”
Such local communities may well come to depend on what they can provide, build, and provision for their own members. It is here that I suggest that a confluence of interest may exist between the university-based researchers and their high-end networks and what programs such as the United States Unified Community Anchor Institution Network will offer locally on a much more widespread basis. Will the offering be a foundation for schools, libraries and local civic institutions that can move local self-reliance away from the increasingly bankrupt hierarchical, political, and corporate sectors into the hands of local communities having their own self-interests at heart? This seems to me to be the most critical question.
I would hope that it turns out that the edge-based low-end and university-based higher-end can establish a mutually beneficial dialogue whereby the people can work with each other to build a more humane and sustainable civilization. Might we have the means for establishing a society where exchange of CAD/CAM files, teleconferencing, etc., replaces most of the physical movement of goods and people”.
“In general, I think most of the solution will be automatic, as this is a sort of perfect storm given the crisis conditions of capitalism. People are becoming underemployed and being thrown back on the informal economy, looking for means of self-provisioning through networking with their neighbors, etc, at the very same time that we're experiencing a singularity in the possibilities of low-cost small-scale production technology. So networked local micro-manufacturing economies will emerge from this “time of troubles” because it's the only solution possible given the tools at hand.”
III. R&E Networks Married to Political Reality
Faced with the destructive and largely unpunished corruption of Goldman Sachs and its Wall Street siblings, many may decide to question any national concept of justice, and to focus on their own local economy. When doing that they should give the US UCAN network a good strong look -- and perhaps an investment of their own time. As the corporate state is, as far as the rest of us are concerned, hollowed out, political and legal power is swinging back toward state control. If you are not part of the plutocracy, you are on your own. Good luck. Therefore grassroots progressives who are Internet savvy and peer-to-peer savvy and who see nothing wrong with hard work and self-reliance have little choice but to regroup into focusing on strengthening their local economies and making the places where they live as resilient as possible. Any and all of us who are involved with our local schools, our libraries, our hospitals, our local government or cultural institutions will have a stake in US UCAN.
The global R&E network collaboration system in many respects can be thought of as a replacement for the old government-sponsored Advanced Projects Research Agency (ARPA). Driven by the emphasis on short-term profits that has resulted from the financialization of our economy, only a relatively small handful of highly complex technology giants maintain meaningful R&D facilities on their own. The government gives universities the money. They do the research and the results are immediately privatized.
But we are at a tipping point. Our university system with its tuition priced increasingly out of reach can choose to downsize and exist only for the elite in the United States. Or with the emergence of US UCAN, it can make a decision to work with a broader range of grassroots progressives to showcase the amazing achievements of the research and education network community. In doing so it must focus on showing the 200,000 community anchor institutions in the largest sense what the best of this as yet poorly understood collaboration based, global, mostly open-source, operating system can do.
Ask Yourself Where You Stand
The choice will define our future. Ask yourself where you stand.
As for myself, I would like to see these technologies given a decentralized and grassroots greenfield on which to grow. The most critical question is to ascertain whether they can be used to further local economies. Such local economies must begin to grow in place of the discredited global financial system and the kind of capitalism based on the end of endless production of goods backed by merchandising marketing and an environmentally destructive, throwaway culture
Our option is to unlock all sorts of hitherto unimagined possibilities in education, in complex systems modeling and in the understanding needed to cope with ecological change and the ability to micro-manufacture in one’s local community and potentially reverse the worst effects of two centuries of industrialization.
I want to spread an awareness and understanding of what these new cooperative, collaborative tools can bring to several thousands of otherwise isolated communities. To pretend that the Washington Wall Street “Nexus” will be able to endlessly engage in grabbing more and more wealth for two or 3% of the entire population without an upheaval occurring sooner or later, is outstanding foolishness. What is left of the American middle class understands that something is wrong and while our society has everything from right wing demagogues to, in my opinion, far more desirable representatives of a thoughtful and empathic group of people many of whom have now grown up with the Internet and are very creatively using it to establish a critique of what capitalism has become and try to build a more sound sustainable society themselves.
For local communities to become self sustaining, access to this network infrastructure and to this emerging collaborative toolset as a viable operating system is critical. The next critical question I see is how many of these tools can be copied by users of the US UCAN network who are interested in the economic development within what they call the open knowledge commons?
We shall not get a good answer to this question without being informed. I hope that this book provides the basic information to start that process. I present some ideas for a workable strategy in the next and penultimate chapter.
When the next meltdown hits, we better hope that US UCAN is in place. Our communities will need it and there will be rafts of unemployed and under employed people that find strategic direction from the peer-to-peer movement which has, I contend, a much more sound agenda that the Washington, Wall Street Military Complex that some are beginning to speak of as a “nexus.” This “nexus” which in its unreconstructed Cold War guise seems to demand an enemy from which it has to protect us. We have now a half century of the military industrial complex against which Eisenhower warned us. Moloch like, it demands to be fed and, if one enemy disappears, it finds a new one. After all it took less than ten years for fear of Communists to be replaced by fear of radical Islam. All this enhanced by a Washington (run-by-Wall-Street and the Oil Companies) that inexcusably has done almost nothing about renewable energy and climate change. Furthermore it was the White House propping up of petro-dictators and stationing troops on Saudi soil that enraged the 17 out of 19 high jackers who were Saudi citizens to attack us on 9/11 and set off a multi trillion dollar war in Afghanistan and Iraq and Pentagon expansion binge that turned the budget from a surplus to an annual unthinkable trillion dollar deficit that fuels the legislative war in Washington. There is no strategy, no national narrative. In looking at the opportunity of US UCAN, that needs to be fixed.
There is no strategy, no national narrative. In looking at the opportunity presented by US UCAN, that needs to be fixed.
If one recalls that it was Charles Beard’s Economic Interpretation of the Constitution published 1913 the year of the founding of the Federal Reserve that, for the first time, established a central banking system in the US. This marked the triumph of the Hamiltonian, one government, one currency, one bank system, the ground work for which was established in 1787 and perhaps served us well through industrialization. But one may now argue – post6 industrialization, that it is high time for a swing in the Jeffersonian direction.
A Hamiltonian world is not sustainable. This is a decision and realization that we shall have to reach on a community-by-community basis. Here is an argument with an overtone familiar to the tone of post meltdown discussions. Charles A. Beard in An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States (1913) and An Economic Interpretation of Jeffersonian Democracy (1915) extended an earlier hypotheasis thesis down to 1800 in terms of class conflict. To Beard, the Constitution was a counter-revolution, set up by rich bond holders (bonds were "personal property"), in opposition to the farmers and planters (land was "real property.") The Constitution, Beard argued, was designed to reverse the radical democratic tendencies unleashed by the Revolution among the common people, especially farmers and debtors (people who owed money to the rich). In 1800, said Beard, the farmers and debtors, led by plantation slaveowners, overthrew the capitalists and established Jeffersonian democracy. see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/An_Economic_Interpretation_of_the_Constitution_of_the_United_States
It is clear now however that power is moving from a despised Washington back to the states. From the center to the edge and it is the edge which the internet is so well set up to serve. But let me add that the global cooperative operating system that this book describes will function best applied to the problems of ecology and climate change, alternative energy, life sciences -- in short the huge global problems that most seriously are bearing down on us. This ethos and culture of collaboration and cooperation is what is needed – yea demanded by the future.
IV. Needed – a US UCAN Strategy because the Future of Local Higher Education, Libraries, and Schools is at Stake
I argue that Internet2 has a totally valid role to play in bringing the local community libraries, schools and community colleges into what Kevin Kelly calls in his new book What Technology Wants, the global “technium” and using locally the spill over effects of the global network, open source, collaboration technology to build resilient communities at the edge.
As long as the US continues its current course, the affordability of the research universities for any but the elite comes into question. But as John Seely Brown points out in his emerging trilogy, the increased speed of continued technology change demands reform of education. The collaborative systems outlined here can and indeed must become the foundation of future education. The Ivy league offers scarcity of degree and not necessarily a difference in quality. Kevin Carson who writes his books from northwestern Arkansas on a dial up connection -- books worthy of a PhD from any Ivy League school. US UCAN must put a firm foundation under the Kevin Carsons of America.
I further argue that the most critical part of the future of US UCAN are our public libraries that must become the environments used by local scholars, small businesses, and local “makers” and “fabers” who for example will need the ability to ship designs larger than ten megabits to 3d printers. The commercial ISPs (telcos and cable cos) are incapable of understanding this new world. And that is just fine. But I also argue that, if the libraries don’t get it, they shall put themselves out of business by not getting it. Inevitably there will be the: ”this is ready for privatization and commercialization” cry. The schools and especially the libraries must have a sustainable funding model but they also must never give in to the privatizatizers. The minute this were to happen I argue that the whole raison d’etre of US UCAN would be destroyed because the legal duty of the corporation is to suck money as profits for shareholder out of every community robbing them all of the ability to be sustainable an resilient in the face of the next collapse of the Central Banks and Wall Street. Public libraries were founded to serve their local communities and NOT the Barons of private equity.
Obama’s home town of Chicago stupidly and venally sold its parking meters to a private company that now gets the cash flow, some of which it shares with the city, but the bargain is treacherous because, if the city ever wants to close a street for a street fair, it is in the contract that the city must pay the absentee owners for the missed revenue. If the library community doesn’t get the business model right in each community, it will one day soon be invited to commercialise and it will find something like a subsidiary of Goldman Sachs that puts a parking meter on each US UCAN terminal and predator like will continually raise rates to keep the bond holders at bay. They will do this while automating the facilities with VOIP to India to replace American librarians with workers less capable but cheaper on behalf of the absent corporate masters.
Wanted: a US UCAN Strategy
When the Wall Street led Crash occurred in the fall of 2008 and Obama was elected, he persuaded Congress to approve the stimulus plan and obtained authorisation to spend billions via the ARRA act to put people back to work. Almost seven billion was allocated to telecom. NTIA and RUS were charged to do something about broadband. But what? The White House didn’t know precisely because other fires were burning. It was not until late December 2009 and early January 2010 that the White House OSTP was contacted via the broadband plan commission and said: you know why not let Internet 2 and NLR know that they should work directly together on a proposal for a backbone for a United States Community Anchor Institution Network. If we got fiber a lot closer to schools and libraries we could get more bang for the buck with the annual subsidy they get through the schools and library program of the Universal Service Fund. Hmmmm. Wouldn’t you know?
It is concxeivable that the basic premise behind US UCAN is nothing more profound that this. Carry on as before with the subsidies for the telcos. What might the real strategy be? All that is overtly clear is a paniced here is some mopney – quick go spend it.
It is urgent that Internet 2, as they roll out US UCAN, think big and recognize the potential that I have outlined. Potential that I doubt the White House was aware of. Of course US UCAN must get built as specified, but built with a broad strategic vision.
Instead of submitting to eventual commercialization, public libraries under US UCAN should choose to become exceptional community invested gateways to self-reliance. These institutions, instead of drawling people to the big cities, should show every town how to use the internet not for its commercial web and porn but rather to show what is available throughout the nation and the world in the way of knowledge and learning and access to science the arts and their tools in a world where the size of the window is not constrained by stockholder scarcity. We are now in the very decade when a century ago most of the Carnegie libraries were built The self-service stacks pioneered by these libraries should be copied a century later with librarians as mentors to users and then working in learning teams in a manner analogous to the ideas of John Seely Brown in his New Culture of Learning. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carnegie_library
Give the towns something that the telcos and cablecos could have given had their profit oriented horizons been capable of seeing more than 90 days into the future. Enable each community to discover what is in its own interest. Encourage communities to compete in terms of interdependence and sustainability. Do not allow distant corpoerations who, absent government money showed no interest, to come in and exploit them.
This is an inflection point that stands not far down the road. We must understand that it is there and unite in our local communities to send the message “Don’t Tread on Me” goes out to the distant predators. The message of self-reliance and independence should be that which occupies the packet flows of US UCAN. This tech is not that hard. If we understand its value -- and the weekend Democracy Camps can help that -- we can and must tackle control and use it on behalf of each community
In October 2010 Steve Wolff now the newly appointed interim CTO for Internet2 gave the major presentation. He called it “Reflections on the Pickle We’re In.” Steve said that “commercializing the NSFnet was a great idea,” but that “privatizing it was not.” As Steve put it “the NSF should’ve believed in itself” and “realized that as R&E became an ever smaller fraction of the business, it would have an ever diminishing voice in the service it received.” Trying to be upbeat Steve concluded that quote the good news is we are not alone. Expanded role for the NRENs is becoming common.” Then in a statement that I cannot overestimate how strongly I agree with he concludes “that it is easier to hold a centrally funded not-for-profit to its social obligations than to subvert the investor focus of a Corporation.
V. A Future Goal -- an interconnected Collaborative Civilization
Can you imagine a world established by means of a communication mechanism that connected all its knowledge makers, its teachers and its curious citizens who wanted to understand more about their own environment into a learning system for research and discovery? How about a communications environment that has made possible a grid on which its inhabitants could self-organize to accomplish their tasks? This is what has been happening over the past 15 years or so in such a quiet a way that most people are entirely unaware of the significant changes and developments outlined in this book.
Becoming somewhat dimly aware of what was happening, I wanted to understand it in its totality which, at the end of about two years of solid work, I now do. But I also believe that, outside the small circle of implementers, few people are aware of the significance of what has been done. It may have been the case in times of prosperity before 2008 that it served the cause well to fly under the radar. I would argue however that in the very different environment 2011 when the old bubble mania has been kept alive for Wall Street while being replaced by an austerity mania for the rest of us, it becomes vitally important, if this good work is to be kept alive and benefit all of us, for a much broader public to understand it and talk about it and help in its implementation and support. These goals were another reason (besides my general curiosity) for writing this book.
Let’s recall what has happened. Physical highways still exist. However the globe has been encircled many times over with glass highways. The small band of men and women honored in this book have taken what they have learned about packet networking and applied it to fiber and the light paths that replace electron streams. They’re doing so has banished the old world of bandwidth scarcity based on copper and dependent on all manner of electrically hungry equipment to shove bits down those relatively resistant copper pathways.
This book explains in the collaborative research ecosystem that is emerging. It shows how they have woven together an intelligent canvas called by various names of “grid” or “e-grids”. This is a canvas that, right now from the individual user’s point-of-view, is more like a star network than a mesh network that the term “grid” calls to mind. It is however an environment that is unlike any environment on the commercial Internet today. This uniqueness is because, from the ground floor to the penthouse, it has been designed for collaboration and for social networking be means of the formation of groups of people with like interests gathered into virtual organizations. It offers such groups of people a portal into a global community numbering probably hundreds of thousands now if not millions and one would hope soon to be offered by turning tens into into hundreds of millions.
The fortunate inhabitants of this new world can gain entry through authentication and authorization given by their affiliated community. Once they join, they will have the opportunity to see the disciplinary grids offered by the organization. In talking with their local experts they may select one or more of these grids. They will be given then the proper instructions for accessing them. At the present moment, their access will be pointed to a physical server and computational infrastructure that normally is a part of the infrastructure established by the country in which they live. However this does not always have to be true. In any case software, in what you might call their home node, speaks to many other notes that are gathered together to assist researchers in this particular field of expertise and mainly number in the dozens or in the case of the worldwide large hadron collider grid in a figure totaling well into the thousands. Furthermore, in the case of the LHC offering likely well into the hundreds of thousands of computing cores spread all over the world and linked by optical fiber at Bitstream speeds so high that for most practical purposes they could all be in the same room.
The grid fabric could be thought of as a potential department store like organization or perhaps better to say library like organization for the real-time evolution of the world’s knowledge. The idea is to take the grid software stack that is discussed in its various components in chapters throughout this book and apply it to this stack so that individual users can have versions tailored to their needs. But, at the same time the network technical folk must do more work in order to make these intelligent systems scale.
Right now this global eco-system is in its beginning stages and requires a lot of manpower to make it work. Work is ongoing to develop a user interface that is more intelligent and needs much less mediation by people who are both computer and subject matter specialists. The goal is to refine it in such a way that it is much more amenable to questions from its users and can guide them to connecting the resources they need in the most expeditious way. Achieving this is the 21st century equivalent of the duties of a reference librarian in the 1980s.
The overall purpose of all this is to give members of the involved user communities the means of organizing and networking on a social and intellectual level while being connected or connectable to the dsevices they require. These range from those that focus on the study of the atomic and molecular level all the way up to the ecological level of the surrounding world and the global level of tectonic plates and weather patterns to the universal intergalactic level of radio telescopes. With access to instruments, they also have access to data collection into huge data stores measured in terabytes and petabytes. The system will enable them to catalogue these data stores, find them, retrieve some, send them where desired for the application of various forms of high-performance computing, retrieve the results, visualize the results, and finally discuss them in videoconferences – locally, regionally or globally. The are doing this ona gerand globalskill and with leadership can adopt to the needs of their localities.
In Whose Interest?
The ability to do all of this exists right now. It is being worked out and refined in a self-organizing way that is fascinating to observe. At this building level the movers and shakers not surprisingly have been the computer and network people. Scientists have been working alongside them to explain the abilities of the tools which they desire. But by now these abilities are reasonably well understood and a second and absolutely critical phase is beginning. This is one that is designed to reach out to entire scientific communities and show these communities what is available and how it is in their interest to begin to adopt them.
Of course this will involve some problems of training and serious fundamental issues of getting these research disciplines to adopt toolsets that will in all likelihood be mandatory both for enabling them to do what they need to do, and for solving the problems they need to solve. The problems of adoption and transition are not small. In fact they are on the same level of importance as those encountered in the transition from hand written books to the printing press and all the other ways in which the human mind over the last five centuries has developed to be able to use the information acquired and make it into meaningful stores of knowledge.
There are a few things that are probably less well understood about what is happening. In order to give them appropriate evaluation and measurement in setting priorities for the use of capital and resources, it is necessary to think about this in terms somewhat different from those of 20th century capitalism.
It is the development of a infrastructural system for the circulatiuon of knoiwledge. We’ve all come to understand the infrastructure of highways, water and sewage services, and electric grids. Although there has been much discussion in the last 5 to 10 years of Internet as infrastructure, understanding the new and significantly different operational ecosystem described in this book as an enabling system for the continued creation of knowledge infrastructure is critical in enabling people to understand why this mechanism for building knowledge is a system that is so basic and so pretty much uniform in its basic constructs that it makes absolutely no sense to think of it ever becoming commercial. Lights, road systems, water systems, electric systems -- you name them. They are all parts of a single global system of basic civilized infrastructure that cannot be isolated into the ownership of one company or group of people because basically they are natural monopolies. It is so basic and so uniform that it makes absolutely no sense to even try to define let alone think of a competing system. It would mean building something huge and expensive twice when doing it once is quite adequate. After human have two hemiuspheres but only one brain.
We shall have globally developed collaborative eco-systems of people who are working within their communities and within their colleagues to define and redefine the community-by-community basis what is necessary. It is imperative that we understand these most basic fundamental differences
And in the United States it is imperative that we seize the opportunity of US UCAN to bring these tools into their respective communities at a level where they are understood and developed from the point of view of infrastructure and not as a new package of soon to be commercialized Internet services. They are the glue that makes the community a community and they will be in their own way unique to the people and the values of their respective communities because they are open and run on the uniform standards. Namely standards that are interoperable but can be tailored to the preferences and needs of their local users.
What this book is talking about and what it is seeking to articulate is an understanding of the development and emergence of something much better thought of as a global collaborative operating system. This is an OS that can be embedded in the values and points of view and interests of each of its communities and in no way is defined as something that can be packaged and merchandised and sold and delivered top-down from any commercial organization to purchasers at the edge.
VI. Summing Up and Request for Help
Basic hypothesis - the tools are there for us to solve our problems but that the opportunity to do so may be missed of slap dash implementation that result from the political pressures of the stimulus legislation.
As I have pointed out, we now have a global set of largely open source collaborative tools running on high-end optical (photonic) networks that while using IP tend to be circuit-switched. These tools especially over the last five years have been designed to launch a global network of collaborative, data intensive, fourth-generation science that is available now to accredited researchers in perhaps 50 or 60 different nations on all the world's continents save for Antarctica. Powerful projects ranging from the large a large hadron collider to radio astronomy to researching global warming and microbiology are fueled by these networks and largely dependent on them.
All this is exciting and inspirational material that comes with one small problem. Most people are absolutely unaware that these network tools or processes even exist because of the tools' dependence on high bandwidth fiber in the “last mile” and becxause their users have never valued out reach. Furthermore they are accessible to relatively few people right now. Namely to a community of perhaps 20 million globally in certainly not more than 500 universities.
No one knows the precise number because the networks while growing are changing all the time. This is a largely federated movement not centrally guided or directed. It is a movement that has never been explained before,. I do so in this book because I'm convinced of its extraordinary potential power. Furthermore, when I say 20 million people in perhaps 500 universities this is a potential audience. Right now I would guess that the global level directly involved is more like 20,000 people. The federated users of these tools realize that the justification for their existence depends on their outreach to a global community of scientists -- many of whom are only just now learning how to use them in professions where their use is not yet strongly rewarded but where successful first-time users can achieve things that are otherwise impossible.
So as with all new technology we see a painful process of outreach, recognition, training, and bridge-building to researchers who can benefit by may be unaware or rather poorly informed of the potential gains and losses involved with their decision to devote sufficient time to adopt and embrace the tools. It is definitely happening and I'm convinced that it's definitely a “go.”
However for the United Sattes it was only nine months ago that NTIA announced -- as stimulus grants designed to bring broadband Internet to more Americans -- some $1.5 billion involving a nationwide dedicated 100 Gb backbone and several diozen middle mile network builds for the creation of what is called the United States Unified Community Anchor Institution Network that is to connect, mostly by fiber some 200,000 so-called community anchor institutions–defined as K-12 schools, junior colleges and public libraries; public safety organizations, hospitals and community arts institutions to a state-of-the-art national network that - in concept at least - can be the first national public Internet as opposed to commercial internet that we have ever had.
To those in the know, and there are very few, this is encouraging. It holds out the possibility of a very desirable paradigm shift in the way some of the most key organizations of our society will be able to communicate with each other in the time of hugely rapid change and financial stress. The opportunity here, with appropriate education and outreach, is to connect schools and libraries and hospitals in such a way that they could enjoy state-of-the-art information flow and participation in everything “near and dear” to the users of the peer-to-peer foundation list, wiki and blog. why make a fuss? Because this could be the circulatory system enabling resilient communities to function on their own when the next economic crisis hits.
But the problem is this $1.5 billion expenditure is a part of the Obama administration's stimulus plan with strict guidelines that every penny must be spent within the next 24 months -- something that makes adequate planning and coordination for an outcome that could be the most useful to our communities and strengthen our children's education is now nothing more than a prime target for chopping down to size and doing things the way they've always been done. because for a corporatized society, that is much easier as it is the way of least resistance.
I have communicated in the last three months with almost the entire leadership behind this effort and more over with quite a few of them face-to-face in the Internet2 international meeting three weeks ago. I regret to say I see a unique opportunity very likely being wasted because -- for political reasons -- the orders are just: get the money spent to build the networks you promised to build and we will figure out how to pay for and how to operate them -- later. Once they're built, we will think a little bit about how to train potential users what they're good for. All of it is haphazard and slapdash to a potentially tragic degree.
I have described in detail the global, University-based what I call “collaborative operating system” and three weeks ago at the Internet 2 meeting I asked, as part of separate 30 to 45 min. conversations with three of the key builders three major questions. First I outlined verbally my understanding of the global optical network based and grid computing based ecosystem they have just had finished building and said to each of the three people do I understand correctly what this is and how it works? All three of them said yes you do.
And then I said what you appear to be focused on over the next five years or so is to make it more user-friendly so that your average scientist can use it as easily as he would use Microsoft office e-mail and the web. They agreed and I continued that you are also extending the operation of all of this into a high-speed wireless cloud that will incorporate user mobility as well as all manner of sensor networks. They affirmed that that was also correct. The final question was is there anything were an effort to be made that would prevent the use of this ecosystem of collaborative tools by the hugely larger community of those 200,000 community anchor institutions?
They said it would take a conscious effort but with training in the fiber-based infrastructure being built for USUCAN that there was nothing of a technology nature standing in the way.
So there you are -- a huge opportunity that will be lucky to live up to 1% of its potential. Why? Because it's being built in the dark while people are basically asleep -- although if you know where to look it's being built very openly. But the people who can benefit from it may well not because they don't know it exists. Achieving an operational infrastructure based on any kind of common understanding of the potential good that can be offered by this networked collaboration is at this point not very likely. Why? Because it this point the command is just get the damn thing built and will think about what to do with it later.
So what is my solution? Undertaking the necessary editing and publication to repurpose this 440 page encyclopedia in the way that it can create the broadest possible understanding of the potential gains.. And then to market, educate and do outreach that otherwise will not be done. A foundation could be helpful here as well as money from the same or perhaps a different foundation to put together at least one proposal and carry it out to validate the ideas and concepts that I have explained in my book "Fast thinking a Research and Education Network Renaissance. "
Perhaps there are other things that need to be done? With this in mind I would like to use this forum to submit my work to the collective intelligence of this group. Please help me in the fine-tuning these ideas and in getting access groups of like-minded people with the necessary so I can gather together a group of people, sharpen and focus the agenda, and go out and make sure this opportunity is positively and well fulfilled.