Recently, while being stuck in a traffic jam on a Friday afternoon, I listened to a radio report on the Deutschlandfunk. It was about GÉANT, the namely gigantic backbone of our European science computer network and in one way or another the reason for the fact that one often finds itself staring at turtle-speed data download bars at home that turn to olympic-like sprinters at the institute. (You can listen to the German report / interview following this link).
So what’s behind that big name that provides science with high-speed internet? First a short detour on history.
The internet that has a multitude of uses nowadays was originally designed to provide better ways for communication and data exchange for two groups of players. The military and the scientific community. This initial phase was dated in the 60’s and 70’s and the place of happening was … the United States of America, of course .
It was in the beginning 80s that Europe and later Germany made their leaps in terms of scientific computer networking with the “Deutsches Forschungsnetz” being founded, which is until now connecting German university and research facilities and the rest of the world.
On the European level the backbone was developed consecutively, each new project with a fancier name than the previous one (IXI, EMPB, TEN-155 just to name some examples, for more see ).
It was then in 2001 that the new European backbone, funded by the European Union, with the name of GÉANT started working. While having assigned the name GÉANT2 for some years, it returned to its original name GÉANT in 2009.
Today GÉANT connects the National Research and Education Networks (NREN) of about 40 European countries with each other  and also with the rest of the world (figure below). It provides a maximum network bandwidth of 500Gbps (gigabits per second) in the core network and has the capacity to be upgraded to 8 Tbps (terabits per second) . With these characteristics, GÉANT is currently the world’s most advanced research and education network .
Why do we need such a data-transferring capacity one may ask?
As research is becoming more and more of a collaborative work, communication of participants across any distance becomes more and more important as well. This communication is not only about sharing ideas but also about sharing and storing data. In some cases huge amounts of data as for example CERN, one of GÉANT’s partners, produces one petabyte of data (= 1000 terabytes) every day . The infrastructure that enables this communication is called e-infrastructure. Besides networks, such e-infrastructure also includes data storage and processing functionality. GÉANT was designed to be the “flagship” of the European e-infrastructure and looking at some of the numbers written earlier it seems to do a good job.
For myself I am looking forward hearing more from GÉANTs future development. Not necessarily while being stuck in a traffic jam.
For anyone who wants to know more about the project. The internet page contains a lot of nice (but sometimes outdated) information. In the meanwhile the GÉANT staff is working on a new web presence that can be found here.