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Internet2 Research Network’s Technology Solutions Transform the Nature of Active Collaboration

By December 14, 2018 No Comments

Exploration of one’s surroundings has taken place since the beginning of time, but technology has transformed how research takes place and how it touches people from all points of the earth. Suddenly, someone studying at the University of Westminster in London, England can simultaneously share the same knowledge with another person exploring the same concept in Newark, New Jersey. Now, in a matter of milliseconds the daily pace of life can take several new forms and directions.

Advanced technology has truly changed how quickly research is conducted and how fast it is shared. Access to these advances is one of the reasons why NJEdge members value their ability to gain access to NJEdge’s robust infrastructure that provides admittance to the Internet2 Research Network.

Internet2 operates one of the country’s largest and fastest research and education networks. The Internet2 network was created to deliver customized and advanced technology services to its membership and partners and serves over 327 United States universities, 60 government agencies, 43 state and regional education networks, 72 leading corporations, and 61 national research and education network partners that represent more than 100 countries. NJEdge is a strategic regional partner with Internet2, giving NJEdge members access to the advanced technology network and its numerous technological solutions. NJEdge’s partnership with Internet2 benefits both entities as it allows the technology to have a broader reach.

“Higher education institutions are the foundation of Internet2 and make up the bulk of our direct membership, but through a regional network such as NJEdge, it creates a much broader reach so all members of NJEdge such as K-12 schools, hospitals, non-profit organizations, and government agencies can take advantage of access to Internet2 services and the network reachability,” said Associate Vice President of Business and Relationship Management for Network Services at Internet2, George Loftus, who serves as a liaison with the regional networks. “We really benefit from a research and education regional network like NJEdge because it provides the physical connectivity to the Internet2 network.”

Internet2: Addressing Needs of All Sizes

Internet2’s education and research network continuously seeks technological advances that support research, as well as how they can better serve the broader community. For example, use of the network results in learning the best way to handle large data flows from the physics community on genomics data or research analysis for a school district. Internet2 is all about finding solutions that help everyone with their different needs –big or small.

“We have found that there’s an externality that happens when we build a network and find solutions for the big researchers that we can share with other community members along the way,” Loftus said. “Our focus is really to try to provide services that a single member or a single institution would have difficulty doing on their own.”

This member-center mindset fits into NJEdge’s philosophy of providing technological solutions and resources to its membership that individually they might struggle finding on their own or, in many instances, the solution or resource, would come at a higher expense. When combined, the approach increases the ability for research and collaboration amongst higher education and other industry groups.

One of these technological solutions is the Internet2 identity and access management model that centers on InCommon, the identity management federation that provides the policy and technical backbone for secure exchanges and offers single sign-on convenience for its users. This model allows institutions to manage the identity infrastructure and gives users access to services—such as business applications, collaboration tools, course management solutions, and others—in a completely secure and privacy-preserving manner.

Internet2 also coordinates the community-driven Trust and Identity in Education and Research (TIER) program, which is an open-source toolset and campus practice set that includes a packaged suite of identity and access management components with ongoing development and upgrades. TIER provides an effective federated identity, attribute, and authorization management platform, integrating such services as the InCommon Federation, Shibboleth Single Sign-On and Federating Software, Grouper enterprise access management software, COmanage (collaborative organization management software and person registry), and other identity and access management solutions.

Federated identity management allows owners of shared online services and resources to only manage their users, while trusting that the credentials of users from other institutions accessing these services are accurate. This practice creates more collaborative opportunities among researchers not just in the U.S., but all over the world.

For example, there can be one school that authenticates and accepts the login of a scholar from another school. Three different physicists might all work at three different universities across the globe, but are collaborating together on the same research project. The tools provided by Internet2 bring organizations together virtually so they can work together and collaborate on research projects that all of them value and find important.

Internet2 has included this approach in their education and research network to ensure usability, interoperability, and cross-organizational security and trust to simplify campus processes and advance inter-institutional collaboration and research.

“It’s important that we have the tools for them to connect and communicate so that they’re not spending all of their time trying to deal with connectivity or trying to deal with setting up user accounts and finding out how to make access available,” Loftus said. “Together with our members, we facilitate putting the tools together that make this process easier and efficient so the researchers don’t have to worry about those details.”

One specific area Internet2’s Trust and Identity infrastructure aided collaboration and research was on the LIGO project, where researchers discovered the gravitational waves that Albert Einstein had predicted actually existed. The LIGO project uses several identity and access management tools created by the Internet2 community to support its hundreds of distributed scientists round the world.

“LIGO is another small example of how these technological tools are used to help researchers complete large research projects,” he said.

The Internet2 Ecosystem

This entire process becomes much easier when Internet2 develops an ecosystem with its regional partners like NJEdge. They coordinate together the physical connectivity, but also work together to provide information on collaboration taking place between institutions, government agencies or researchers.

“Because of the way we’re structured, it’s very important that we work very closely with our regional partners for not only the physical connectivity between the universities and us, but also to be able to reach out and find the researchers who are doing the interesting work as well as to uncover what is happening within the different parts of the community that we can bring to light and share with others,” Loftus said.

Collaboration is key to the success of Internet2 and its regional partners. It creates an enhanced value proposition that allows solutions to be delivered and research to take place at a high level. For instance, collaboration is happening at Rutgers University, with the help of NJEdge and Internet2, where a research compute platform has been created. Several high performance computers have been designed to handle computing work amongst the campuses. A job is submitted to a scheduler who looks at which high performance computers are available at the different campuses and finds the one in the state to complete the job.

This concept has created excitement among the developers, and NJEdge and Rutgers are working with several states in the mid-Atlantic and New England to extend this ability for compute services. This structure means you could be working in New Jersey, but the Massachusetts High Performance Computer Center or one in Rhode Island or Pennsylvania is available. The computing job is sent to the available high performance computer and subsequently is completed at a faster rate. This example illustrates another technology solution that speeds up the process with the help of Internet2 in a strategic partnership with NJEdge.

“They are pulling together the different state and research entities and extending the access to more high performance computers,” Loftus said. “We’re happy to be a part of this experiment between Rutgers and NJEdge and help provide the connectivity and knowledge that allows disparate groups of people to communicate with one another.”

Understanding the Technology Needs of Students

Technological solutions where collaboration plays a big role ultimately help higher education institutions stay in-tune with technology trends while also gaining an understanding of what students want from their education. Internet2 helps schools deliver and provide access to advanced cloud services to their students and user base.

“Every year, there are more technologically-savvy audiences arriving on campuses,” Loftus said. “We need to be on the front line of delivering technology services and helping meet the demand, whatever the research may be or the technology required.”

Meeting the Needs of Members

Internet2 diligently strives to meet the varying needs of its members and desires to operate in a manner that’s transparent so they know what technological solutions and tools are being developed and the financial and human resources being used to solve the problems. Loftus said they try to operate in a manner where the community has input on new services being created, enabling Internet2 to be successful in delivering what their members require.

Internet2 hosts a meeting each year, wherein the CEOs of the 43 regional and state networks come together to discuss what is needed and what technological solutions would be beneficial to their partnerships. “At one of our recent meetings with the principals, we sat down and talked about what our guiding principles are, and one of them said we should work first to collaborate before creating a service or bringing a solution to a table,” Loftus said. “Following these principles has served us well since then.”

With these principles as a guideline for upcoming projects and technological solutions, Internet2 is working on new cloud connectivity solutions. They enable myriad solutions that are being rolled out and made available. Internet2 is also working toward the next generation of the their network, making it newer, more expansive, and faster than previous versions. NJEdge has also had input in this next generation network.

Another area undergoing an update that is beneficial to NJEdge members

is the trust and identity space, where the network is becoming more advanced. The Shibboleth authentication system used for illumira® is also undergoing an upgrade.

“NJEdge has been a leader in these spaces among the regional networks for a while,” Loftus said. “There’s quite a bit of activity coming as we roll out services to better connect us to the cloud and to build a new network the community will be interested in learning about.”

Internet2 Supports Industries Across Multiple Categories

The technological advances and solutions that Internet2 provides have also attracted the interest of industry members and government entities. This expanded group includes companies that want to use the Internet2 network to access high performance computing facilities or technology companies that test their technology through Internet2. Others include service providers that offer solutions like DocuSign or are interested in benefiting from the networking opportunities with the research and education community.

Some of the government agencies or groups that are members of Internet2 include: the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Net Lab, the United States Department of Agricultural Research Service, the Library of Congress, and the Smithsonian Institution. The biggest government partner is the Energy Sciences Network, where the Department of Energy labs collaborate and work together to create their own network overlay on the Internet2 network.

“Our goal as a member-driven organization is to be a strategic partner and strive to work first to collaborate with our members in delivering solutions,” Loftus said. “Many of our members share the same technological challenges and value solutions that other members have created.”

When barriers to discovery are removed, research and collaboration can take place more efficiently and at a much faster rate. The technology that Internet2 has developed allows the research and education community to advance and accelerate discoveries that have lasting impacts on society and human life.

For more information on Internet2, please visit www.Internet2.edu.