NEW POSSIBILITIES FOR THE HUNGARIAN ACADEMIC AND RESEARCH COMMUNITY TO ACCESS INTERNATIONAL NETWORKS

Lajos Bálint

Vice-President

HUNGARNET Association

18-22 Victor Hugo, Budapest, H-1132 Hungary

E-mail: h48bal@ella.hu



1. Introduction

Networked communication and information services play nowadays an extremely important role in the everyday work and life of all those being involved in science and academia. This is not a surprising statement but there is something special about it to point out by this overview of the Hungarian situation. Namely, it is most important for the country that for today the mentioned fact did get a most direct experience of all those great many Hungarian users of the academic and research network, having 24 hours, 7 days a week access to the different services provided by the infrastructure, as well.

Although the level of networking did reach commensurability to that of the Western countries just recently, the network and the services supporting these Hungarian academic and research users did emerge step by step during the last ten years. The present level of networking in Hungary is similar to the average level in the more developed part of Europe, first of all since Hungary has joined TEN-34, an EU FW4 project of extremely high importance and significance.

But the way of reaching the present situation was not very easy. Below, a brief summary is given about the efforts and results of the past 10 years, together with a short characterisation of the present status and a summary of some further plans. It is emphasised how important is the participation of the Hungarian academic and research community in EU supported projects.


2. Background and early history

Academic and research networking in Hungary did start in 1986 from the scratch. At that time, no mentionable computer network was in operation in the country. Only some experimental projects tried to establish basic forms of data communication through simple networks connecting some major academic and research sites.

Although the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and the National Committee for Technological Development did provide considerable financial and moral support to the Information Infrastructure (IIF) Program, the starting steps were extremely difficult. However, inspite of the lack of up to date equipments and software, the level of expertise within the related community did evolve rapidly. Because of the COCOM regulations, even the first X.25 packet switch was developed by rearchers at the Academy, for the first network based on OSI standards.

Until the late 80's, the main goal was to increase the number of intelligent PC terminals connected into LANs and to the wide area X.25 network. Thanks to the activities and capabilities of a great many domestic fans of the common goals, and to the proper allocation of the considerable but limited financial resources (including domestic funding, World Bank loans and EC PHARE support), during that period of time the infrastructure itself and the supported services, too, have achieved a technical and organisational level being commensurate to those of most European countries. All the important research institutions, together with the major universities and with the most important public libraries did join the IIF-community, and got contacted physically to the IIF system (ie to the country-wide computer network).

At the end of the year 1990, a network-based information system was already at the disposal for several thousands of academic and research-oriented users. The system, itself, has been based, from that time, on international and de facto standards (X.25, XXX, UUCP) guaranteeing direct intercommunication with international academic networks. Among the services provided by the system at that time, the national e-mail service (with connection to EUNET), bulletin board services, file transmission services and full-screen database access are to be mentioned first. More than a hundred local databases were providing on-line services in the early 90's, including bibliographical services by the largest libraries.

Early in the 90's, the Ministry of Culture and Education as well as the Committee of the National Scientific Research Fund did also join the Program.

In the year 1991, the IIF Program entered it's second phase, spanning the period 1991 to 1994. Obviously, the most important 1991 event in the life of the Hungarian academic and research networking community was the opportunity of joining the Internet. Between early 1992 and mid-1994 the number of Internet hosts did emerge from 0 to almost 5000. During this second phase of the program, the number of users did also increase considerably. By this way, the information infrastructure has been able to help almost the entire Hungarian academic and research community in joining international research projects, improving scientific relations and enhancing the quality of higher education.

The services at early 1994 did comprise, besides the earlier ones, message handling, remote job entry, remote interactive processing, directory services, distribution list services and different kinds of information services. Until 1995, a complete service portfolio did evolve, covering also higher level information services, including gopher and WWW.

A significant amount of large capacity workstations did appear on the individual research sites. UNIX based regional LAN's have also been installed, all with an IP router for allowing the application of Internet technology.

From the year 1995, the IIF Program has been substituted by the NIIF ("National IIF") Program, continuing the IIF mission but with additional features and objectives.


3. Results of the recent years (late 1995 - early 1997)

The wide area network interconnecting the regional and local user communities and their service and support centres have based on a combination of leased lines and a packet switched virtual non-volume-charged network, exploiting the public service of MATAV, the Hungarian Telecommunication Company.

HBONE, the proprietary managed IP backbone network of the IIF/NIIF community has been established during 1993 and 1994, and has been gradually developed later. HBONE, while having turned to be the major medium of the IIF data traffic, has been providing interfaces and Internet services for the connecting HBONE nodes, by allowing full acccess to the widely used Internet service portfolio (smtp, ftp, telnet, gopher, news, WWW etc.) and supporting international traffic by direct access to the European IP backbones.

At early 1996, almost 30 HBONE nodes (including those comprising the Budapest kernel, an Autonomous System, interconnected by a redundant topology of high speed digital transmission channels - digital radio links, 100 Mbps FDDI, high speed Ethernet leased lines - and connecting the domestic traffic to the interfaces of the international IP beckbones) were already operating. The HBONE nodes, also serving as regional service providers, have been equipped with multiprotocol routers interconnected by leased digital lines. On the HBONE level, dynamic routing is applied. The local routers, servers and gateways of the regional domestic user communities (institutions connected to Autonomous Regional Systems) are connected to the HBONE nodes through their LANs/MANs, by leased lines. The role of the packet switched public X.25 digital network (allowing by IP, X.25 or IP over X.25 traffic) did start to fade out of the connectivity palette after the mid-90's. However, the average speed of the HBONE links have been just 64 Kbps, much below the characteristic demand of the related user community.

The international traffic between the Hungarian academic and research community and their foreign partners has been running through the Budapest routers of HBONE and their interfaces to the international backbones (EuropaNET and Ebone). The Amsterdam EuropaNET node has been accessed, from late 1995, through a 2 Mbps line by HBONE, while the bandwidth of the connection to the Vienna Ebone EBS was 256 Kbps.

The number of the Internet hosts did increase continuously and rapidly. Until early in 1996, this number rised above 17.000, with an about 100 % annual increase in the previous two years. At the beginning of 1997 the number of the IP hosts was well above 30.000 and late in 1997 this number is approaching 50.000. About 80 % of them are serving the academic and research community. The number of users of the services is conservatively estimated to be more than 200.000.

The international traffic of the Hungarian academic and research community did also evolve steadily. In early 1996, the average monthly incoming international traffic mounted to above 150 Gbytes. The outgoing amount of information is almost steadily about half of the incoming amount. The volume of the international traffic is more than quadrupling annually. At the start of 1997, more than 500 GBytes per month average traffic was measured. The network did support different kinds of communication services as well as worldwide information access. The number of domestic WWW servers did increase rapidly: until early 1997, more than 100 academic and research institutions did start to operate a total number of more than 200 WWW servers.

HUNGARNET, the Hungarian Academic and Research Networking Association (comprising the entire Hungarian academic and research community, ie those being interested in the NIIF Program) takes special care of the connections to international networks and networking organisations.

After the early years when the IIF community established international connections with EARN, Eunet, and HEPNET, a very important step ahead was that, in 1992, HUNGARNET became a Full National Member of RARE, the European Research Networking Association and in early 1994 HUNGARNET entered DANTE, the European service provider for the academic and research community, as well as CEENet, the association of the Central and Eastern European academic and research Networking organisation. Since October 1994, HUNGARNET is a member of TERENA (Trans-European Research and Education Networking Association, the successor of RARE and EARN, following their merger). HUNGARNET is also closely cooperating with the Internet Society (an ISOC Hungary Chapter has been established in 1997).


4. The present: HUNGARNET in TEN-34

Probably the most important step in getting ahead during the last phase of the NIIF Program was that in 1996 HUNGARNET did join the TEN-34 (Trans-European Network Interconnection at 34 Mbps) project.

TEN-34, being an EU supported project in the 4th Framework Programme, is a joint effort of more than a dozen Western-European national academic and research network organisations and their telecom operator partners. The preparations of the project did start early in 1995, the contract between the European Commission, the participating partners, and DANTE, as cordinator, has been signed in February 1996.

After lenghty discussions and preparations, HUNGARNET has got entitled to join TEN-34 later in 1996. Thanks to the late 1996 approval of entering the contract, and to the active cooperation of MATAV, the Hungarian academic and research community (the first one from the Central and Eastern European region) has been involved in the early 1997 technical realisation of the 34 Mbps backbone. Since May 1997, HUNGARNET has a 10 Mbps connection to TEN-34 - an enormous increase in the speed of international traffic and in the possibilities of utilising most up-to-date services and applications requiring high bandwidth interconnections.

Basically, TEN-34 is using ATM technology. Moreover, TEN-34 is the first European standard for uniform, integrated and managed ATM and IP over ATM service. On the other hand, a very high level of QoS (Quality of Service) has been attained by the new backbone service. Thus, besides the capacity of the network, the technology is also lending itself to such applications as the different ways of exploiting, among others, also real-time multi-media technology. This means that the Hungarian academic and research community, together with their Western European partners, are able to introduce, experiment, and utilise all those services and applications being to be disseminated to the wider public in the forthcoming years. Moreover, participating in TEN-34 is providing a new element in the domestic networking arena, as well, by helping and also forcing the further development of similarly up-to-date, ATM-based infrastructure and services within the country.

In its present form, the TEN-34 infrastructure is a multi-vendor supplied network combining ATM virtual paths, a managed IP subnetwork and traditional leased circuits. The project is constructed by setting up of two subnetworks. Unisource is operating a managed IP service between the Unisource home countries (Sweden, Netherlands, Switzerland, Spain) and also connecting Belgium. Data-transmission services based on ATM do interconnect France, Germany, Italy, the UK, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Austria, Hungary, Greece, Belgium, the Czech Republic and Protugal. The two subnetworks are interconnected at three locations in Europe (Geneva, Frankfurt and London).

TEN-34 is unique in the sense that the partners in the project - the National Research Networks - have specified the requirements of the service they want to receive from the telecom operators. This is in contrast to supplier-led solutions being characteristic in almost any other cases. 14 telecom operators in 13 countries contribute by providing the telecommunication infrastructure. The involvement of the users in the service specification ensures that Quality of Service and Value for Money have a high priority in realising TEN-34.

DANTE, as coordinating partner in TEN-34, is addressing the many technical and organisational issues that arise in this huge, multi-party project. Management of the TEN-34 network operation is done by one single network management centre.

Network operation services include, among others, help desk support, network monitoring and configuration service, and network statistical analysis. By this way, the current status of the network, network performance, and fault handling can be dealt with appropriately.

Operation of the TEN-34 infrastructure started in March 1997 and during the next several months, all elements of the full network have got into operation, step by step. The links of the production traffic have entered as they had successfully passed the well defined ATM and IP tests. Hungary, together with Austria, has joined in May (HUNGARNET is connected through the Vienna TEN-34 node to the network).

The TEN-34 project represents not just a complex technical task but also a major financial management activity. There are more than a dozen suppliers and the annualised cost is around 40 MECU (reflecting mostly the very high cost of international telecommunications within Europe). The consortium agreement signed by the participants provides a stable and flexible commercial framework for the management of the project, and ensures that costs and benefits are fairly shared out by the participants.

Most of the TEN-34 network is now up and running. On May 20th the official launch of the TEN-34 network did take place. At the launch ceremony, a half-day symposium was organised to address the accomplishments of TEN-34 as well as the challenges to the future of European research networking. The symposium was attended by representatives from the three key parties in European research networking: the National Research Networks, the Telecom Operators and the European Commission. There was a common agreement at the symposium about the necessity of continuity in the provision of a high-quality pan-European network for R&D. There was also a recognition of the need to build on the success of TEN-34. It was agreed that a network such as TEN-34, playing a pivotal role in the support of co-operative Research and Development, should be a permanent feature of European Union sponsored research and development.

Needless to say, the greatly increased bandwidth, the enhanced connectivity, the new opportunities of introducing sophisticated new services and applications did open new horizons for the HUNGARNET community.

But for HUNGARNET, joining TEN-34 was not just a technical, organisational and financial task. It is, at the same time, a symbol of marching together with the mainstream of European development in the extremely important and promising field of telematics. Thus, the results having been achieved, and the benefits having been gained in connection with TEN-34 are not just those that are directly exploitable and enjoyable by the academic and research community but also a milestone in getting ahead in the European integration process. That's why HUNGARNET, in the frameworks of the NIIF Program, and with the support of those high level bodies playing key role in Hungarian advancement in the preparations for the coming information society, will try to do their best for keeping in line with the next steps of European development, especially by taking part at the successor of TEN-34, as well.


5. Looking ahead

It is well known throughout the academic and research community that up-to-date information services on the basis of a well working information (networking) infrastructure are of key importance in maintaining high quality research as well as education and effective communication and cooperation with world-wide partner research institutions, universities and R&D colleagues. Also the supporting partners in the NIIF Program take special care of the evolution of the NIIF network and services, and allocate year-by-year a considerable amount of resources to the Program.

The present and future goals, while maintaining the earlier concepts of the NIIF Program, are still more ambitious than in the previous period, by trying to keep pace with the evolution of networking and information services in the developed world, by involving an increasing variety of new technologies, by elevating the bandwidths of the network, by broadening the spectrum of the emerging information services and by widening the user community.

Piloting such services and applications allowed by the high speed of TEN-34 traffic and by the novel technologies exploited in TEN-34, as well as distributing the knowledge about those services and applications enabled by these high speed and up-to-date technologies are of key importance not only for the related academic and research community but also for the whole national economy and society. Obviously the Hungarian academic and research community is looking forward to the successor of TEN-34, prospectively aiming at 155 Mbps from mid-1998, the termination date of the TEN-34 project.

Needless to say, the financial requirements of remaning within the main stream of straightforward European networking developments are not easy, and, in a longer range, almost impossible to meet by own funding alone. Since Hungary is not yet an EU member country, HUNGARNET is not eligible to receive EC support to participate in TEN-34. That's why HUNGARNET, together with its neighbour countries, is looking forward to a financing construct being similar to the extremely successful Phare 1991 and 1994 R&D Networking Projects of partly EC funding for research networks in the CEESs.

With the perspectives of the information society in the CEE countries in mind, a well reasoned and detailed proposal for funding of international network services for the research and education community, especially in order to involve the CEE region in TEN-34 based Pan-European interconnectivity has been developed earlier in 1997 and agreed within the frameworks of the EU-CEEC Forum on the Information Society. The members of Panel 2 (Panel on the implementation of the Action Plan towards the IS in the CEEC) have asked the Chair of the Panel to present the proposal to the Forum at its October 1997 meeting in Brussels. The academic and research communities in the CEE region - including HUNGARNET - are looking forward to the results of the Forum, especially with regard to the funding proposal.

Obviously, the HUNGARNET community is in the hope of mutually beneficial cooperation among all related European national academic and research communities. HUNGARNET would like not just to gain from the TEN-34 issue but also contribute to the development of academic and research networking in Europe and to the evolution towards the coming Information Society in the old continent and world-wide.

It is widely recognised within the related community as well as among the local supporting bodies in Hungary that the investments - although, mostly by an indirect way - are returning manifold not only in the form of the nations' economic, scientific, cultural and intellectual potential, cooperative abilities, innovative and competitive readiness, but also in fruitful potential international relations. No other means can substitute, in their crucial role, communication through the network and collecting/disseminating information among the world-wide academic and research community - and later, the full society all over the world - by utilising the possibilities provided by the networking infrastructure.


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