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AARNet Indigo Map 2017
06 February, 2018

Why AARNet’s intercontinental cable partnership leads the way for R+E networks globally

Alexander van den Hil, is the Dutch national research and education network, SURFnet‘s product manager for national and international network services.

Here he posts about AARNet’s innovative role as a partner (with Google, Indosat Ooredoo, Singtel, SubPartners, and Telstra) in the Indigo Project consortium to build additional connectivity between Australia and South East Asia, and why SURFnet wants to replicate this model for trans-Atlantic connectivity.

AARNet has secured a scoop: they are the first NREN (national research and education network) partner in a consortium for laying a submarine cable under the Indian Ocean for network connections. What is so special about that, and in particular, why does SURFnet also want this in the future? Because it means you have complete control of your own cable.

Determining and sharing capacity

SURFnet is aware of the importance of having complete control of the cables in your network. On our fibre optic network in the Netherlands, we can determine precisely how we light the fibres. This means that we can determine the capacity of the fibres because we select the equipment that modulates the light (the better and more modern the equipment, the greater the capacity that you can send over a beam of light). This self-determination also makes it possible to share the capacity of the fibres with other parties. And it provides space for innovation: what if we also wish to offer 400 Gbit/s connections, or ultimately even 1 Tbit/s? Then we can develop that.

Cross border fibres

In the Netherlands, we have our own network and we are therefore in a position to do these things. In addition, we have (together with other NRENs) a number of connections with cities in Europe, including Hamburg, Geneva, Paris and London. These are called cross border fibres (CBFs). We can do exactly what we wish with these connections as well. For example, we make part of the spectrum available to the European research network GÉANT, which partly relies on our CBFs for its network.

Limitations of leasing

SURFnet also has a number of trans-Atlantic connections, the ANA-300, again together with a number of other NRENs. However, we purchase these connections from a consortium of telecom providers. They control the cables and lease part of the capacity, in this case 100 Gbit/s, to SURFnet and partners. We are thus locked into this 100 Gbit/s, at layer 2. That provides relatively little flexibility: we are tied to the technical options (and limitations) provided by the leasing telecom operators.

Dream: control of our trans-Atlantic connections

How wonderful it would be if we also had complete control of our trans-Atlantic connections. We would then be in a position to develop links with our American and Canadian colleagues at Internet2 and CANARIE that we could adapt fully to our own wishes and requirements. It is with some jealousy that we look towards our colleagues at AARNet, the Australian research network. They have actually achieved a great thing which remains unique.

AARNet realises Project Indigo

AARNet is actually part of a consortium that is laying a trans-Atlantic submarine cable connection between Perth and Indonesia/Singapore: Project Indigo. Large companies such as Telstra, Indosat and Google are represented in that consortium. AARNet is also involved. In future (from 2019, when the cable is in place) AARNet will cease purchasing Ethernet service from one of the telecom operators, and will instead manage its part of the cable connection independently. It will thus be in a position to specify what type of equipment it uses on the fibres, for example. Among other things, this independence is of great importance for the telescope being built in Perth as part of the SKA (Square Kilometre Array) project. In this project, telescopes in Australia and South Africa make observations, the (big) data of which will be available throughout the world.

Special achievement

It is the first time that an NREN has formed part of such a consortium, and that is a special achievement. It doesn’t just happen by chance. Laying such a submarine cable connection is a huge project: it takes a lot of time and naturally involves a considerable investment. At SURFnet we are of course following this development with interest. We are proud of the achievement of our Australian colleagues, and we are in discussions with European partners in order to see whether we could also be part of such a large intercontinental project in the future.

This article was first published on the SURFnet Innovation Blog.