Providing High-speed Connectivity to Research and Education: SANReN

Government has invested in a dedicated national research and education (R&E) network that is operated by the Tertiary Education and Research Network of South Africa (TENET), with the CSIR-hosted South African National Research Network (SANReN) tasked with network rollout and the development and incubation of advanced services that run on the network. The aim of this investment is to provide high-speed connectivity to scientific research and higher education institutions and is geared at ensuring the successful participation of South African researchers in the global knowledge production effort.

In 2019/2020, progress has been made in the upgrade of the SANReN core national backbone to dark fibre, with an initial capacity of 100Gbps. At the end of March 2019, SANReN had connected 236 sites to the network. Science, research, education, and innovation entities are eligible for connection to the SANReN network. These include South African public universities, science/research councils, national facilities and institutions, academic hospitals and museums. There is capacity on four undersea cables, which connect the network to the rest of the world. The Total Available Broadband Capacity (TABC) on the network is 3557Gbps, as at 31 March 2019.

At the end of 2019, SANReN hosted its third Cyber Security Challenge (CSC) student competition at the CHPC National Conference 2019. The purpose of the competition is to stimulate interest in cybersecurity in the field of network/information security within South African tertiary education institutions. The competition was split into two rounds, because of the high level of interest from students. There was a first qualification round, where 416 students, comprising 125 teams, competed for a place in the final round. A team normally comprises four members, and there are 12 team places in the final round. During the final round, 12 teams comprising 44 students (some teams only comprised three members) competed in a number of challenges over the course of the event. This year, a team from Mozambique qualified to participate in the competition with returning teams from Botswana and Namibia.

The SANReN Computer Security Incident Response Team (CSIRT) provides services and support to the SANReN beneficiaries to prevent and respond to information technology (IT) security incidents. These incidents can include hacking, denial of service attacks, ransomware, intellectual property theft, data breaches, compromised systems, as well as malware. The services provided by the team include incident response support and coordination (in partnership with TENET, operator of SANReN), vulnerability assessments (to report on and provide remediation advice for the security weaknesses of a beneficiary’s IT infrastructure), as well as announcements of relevant news from the global information security community.

SANReN has been running a national Data Transfer Pilot project in an effort to increase the transfer speed and reliability of moving large datasets to and from South African researchers and scientists nationally and internationally. The pilot uses specialised hardware, software and network architectures to facilitate this large data transfer movement. With the growing capabilities of National Research and Education Networks (NRENs), like SANReN, researchers should no longer need to transfer their data by shipping hard-drives to each other. The team is working with CHPC and DIRISA to provide more holistic data transfer solutions to the R&E community and has set up Data Transfer Nodes (DTNs) in Cape Town, Johannesburg and Pretoria, which are now available to the South African R&E community.

Key Strategic Initiatives: SANReN

  1. Mature the SANReN Data Transfer (DT) pilot service aimed at localising Data Transfer Node (DTN) technology in order to provide a platform for the efficient transport of large amounts of digitized research and education data between South Africa’s higher education, research and innovation support organisations, as well as their regional and international collaborators and counterparts
  2. Grow the reach and capacity of the SANReN network by upgrading the backbone to a dark fibre network with 100Gbps circuits at inception, upgrading and adding various backbone extension links, upgrading of the Durban metro network, assisting TENET in connecting deep rural sites through the DHET funded Rural Campus Connectivity Projects (RCCPs) and assisting SABEN in connecting all TVETs on the SANReN network through the National Skills Fund (NSF) funded TVET Campus Connectivity Project (TCCP)
  3. Activate additional international capacity on the West Africa Cable System (WACS) for general use by the SANReN beneficiaries, as well as undertaking further capacity swap arrangements for capacity on other undersea cables (such as the South Atlantic Cable System (SACS)) in order to improve redundancy and support the Global Research and Education Network (REN) CEO Forum’s Global Network Advancement Group, which strives to establish a Global Research and Education Network (GREN)
  4. SANReN will continue to connect new sites onto the SANReN network in order to provide more than the 1.3 million users (which includes students, researchers and educators) at South Africa’s higher education, research and innovation support organizations with world-class National Research and Education Network (NREN) grade connectivity services.
  5. Increase the SANReN network’s capacity to provide a Total Available Broadband Capacity (TABC) that will exceed 3500Gbps
  6. In collaboration with the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO) implement a dark fibre link between Carnarvon and Beaufort-West that will allow MeerKAT measurement data to be carried over the new SANReN dark fibre backbone network from the SKA core site to the CHPC in Cape Town for astronomy processing
  7. Grow the SANReN Computer Security Incident Response Team (CSIRT) services portfolio to include an alerting service