Foreword by Andreas Dudler
2021 was heavily affected by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. However, unlike 2020, this past year saw GÉANT and the NRENs accept the inevitable and move our community activities completely online. With numerous infoshares, community workshops and events and the highest ever number of visitors (albeit online) to our flagship conference, TNC, 2021 saw our community thriving again while we continued to deliver stable services to the research and education community.
A major activity was the collaboration on a joint community strategy and its adoption in March 2021. With an agreed Vision, Mission, and Ambition, the eight strategic goals will set our community direction for the next five years. We have included a special section on our strategy in this annual report.
2021 also saw the roll-out of major elements of the GN4 Phase 3 Network (GN4-3N) project, sister project to GN4-3. With a total budget of EUR50.5M, GN4-3N is the most significant refresh of the GÉANT network in a decade, aimed at supporting the rapidly growing needs of Europe’s research and education community for the next 15 years, while helping to narrow the digital divide, stimulating the market in cross-border communications, and supporting greener ICT.
2021 also saw the launch of the EllaLink submarine cable through the BELLA Programme – one of the most significant achievements of R&E networking collaboration between Europe and Latin America in recent years.
And simultaneously, the community prepared the Framework Programme Agreement (FPA) with the EC for the period until 2028. Based on this new FPA, our community will be able to continue the delivery of terabit-ready network connectivity, trust, identity and security services, as well as cloud services to Europe’s research and education institutions.
November 2021 again saw changes to the composition of the Board of Directors of GÉANT. Eric Durieux (RENATER, FR), Lars Fischer (NORDUnet, the Nordics) and János Mohácsi (KIFÜ, HU) joined the Board, while Paul Feldman was re-elected as an independent member. This meant that we said goodbye to long-standing and much valued members Raimundas Tuminauskas (PSNC, PL) and Valter Nordh (SUNET).
Looking forward, our community is collaborating closely to prepare for the big five areas which will dominate research and education networking in the coming years: success in GN5 to build seamlessly upon GN4-3 activities, our continuous commitment to the European Open Science Cloud (EOSC), to EuroHPC, and to Quantum, as well as additional global activities through the Global Gateways Policy.
We are glad to see that GÉANT and the community of NRENs is in high demand as a trusted partner in many of these important European activities.
Rising to the challenges
Last year I wrote in the Annual Report of 2020: “The R&E networking community managed to cope well with the crisis and to provide support where it was needed. We did that on the basis of cooperation and sharing of resources. An important part is also the human network we have built within our community over the past decades. Trust, more than money, is the commodity. That human network, however, needs maintenance and that is not easily done via videoconferencing. We therefore hope that by the end of 2021 we can return to having in-person meetings again and that in 2022 we will have a ‘live’ TNC.”
While the timing proved optimistic my hope remains that we can now, in the first half of 2022, finally start meeting again in real life and work on those trust relationships and indeed meet at TNC in June in Trieste.
However, despite the obvious challenges, we have in the past year achieved a great deal as a community, even if almost all of it had to be done online. The launch of the EllaLink submarine cable, the submission of the new FPA, the implementation of a large part of the GN4-3N network, and the increasing usage of eduTEAMS to name but a few.
And in March 2021, I was delighted to see the General Assembly (GA) approve the new strategy for the GÉANT community, with a clear mission: To empower research and education with an open, innovative, and trusted information ecosystem. The fact that 40 partners came together to agree on this common strategy is quite remarkable and something I am rather proud of – it again demonstrates the collaborative nature of our community and gives us a strong platform from which to progress.
That clear mission includes the word ‘innovative’ and so to stimulate this innovation we launched the GÉANT Innovation Programme, from which we have selected 10 exciting projects that we hope will boost our innovative power to a higher level.
2021 also brought other challenges.
The first of these is that while the European Commission recognises that GÉANT and the NRENs consistently deliver, as a result it wants us to be part of several of their initiatives. While it is very positive to be recognised, we need to make sure we are not over-committing, to ensure we continue to deliver the service quality that our stakeholders have come to expect.
The second challenge is around people. In 2021 the economy recovered quickly, leading to a shortage of talent and manpower for GÉANT and the NRENs. Together we need to face this challenge to make sure we can continue to deliver on our commitments.
Despite all these challenges I believe 2021 was an extremely positive year for GÉANT. 2022 offers the chance to again travel and meet in person at events such as TNC, to shake hands and look people in the eye, to work on those trust relationships with all our partners so that we can embrace these exciting challenges together.
The strategy seeks to frame those activities undertaken as part of the GÉANT Association – the collaboration of Europe’s NRENs and the GÉANT organisation – and how they will continue to support the wider community.
At the TNC21 Conference Opening, Erik Huizer and Cathrin Stöver discussed the strategy in more depth and highlighted what it means for the community.
The strategy is available here.
Our Big Five – The GÉANT Safari Adventure has begun
With new policies published in 2021 such as “A Europe Fit for the Digital Age” or the “Digital Decade Policy Programme”, the EU has set the tone and direction for the GÉANT community.
The Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) – with its budgets agreed and first work programmes published for Horizon Europe, the Connecting Europe Facility, the Digital Europe Programme, and the Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument – shows us there will be five major areas in which the GÉANT community will have to be successful over the next years: Our Big Five.
The FPA for GN5: the Rhinoceros
Rare, brawny, and self-assured. Like a Rhino, GN5 is an unusual beast with a unique structure reflecting the trust placed in the GÉANT community given its years of successful delivery. Like a Rhino GÉANT is often asked to extinguish the fires in our environment.
EOSC: the Elephant
Like the parable of the Elephant, EOSC means many things to different people. The vision is harmonising, but much community consensus and coordination is still required.
EuroHPC: the Lion
The King of the Jungle with great potential! Like a Lion, EuroHPC has enormous potential for the GÉANT community; to succeed, GÉANT and the NRENs must closely collaborate.
Quantum: the Leopard
Super-fast, powerful, and strong. Like the Leopard, Quantum is innovative, forward-thinking and holds huge potential impact for the GÉANT community. Can quantum communications networks be our “natural” next step?
International / Submarine: the Buffalo
Its unpredictable temperament may have been part of the reason that the African buffalo has never been domesticated. The funding environment for the Global Gateways is complex but exciting, and we will need to work with our global partners to succeed.
Our Big Five live in an increasingly complex environment of new initiatives and policies, with limited new budgets resulting in new opportunities and threads for our communities.
Virtual TNC21 a great success
Taking TNC21 online proved an enormous challenge, but one which highlighted the innovation, determination, and passion the community is known for. By providing a virtual platform which really captured the TNC experience and by waiving the registration fee, we welcomed a record number of attendees to TNC21.
A packed programme of keynotes, presentations, workshops, demonstrations, and networking opportunities, all linked seamlessly together by our daily live lobby hosts and on-demand content, created a virtual but very real experience! Even the traditional morning run (including walks, runs, swims, and yoga sessions) was accommodated, supported by great social media activity across the community.
In a week that saw over 1,200 people come together from 105 countries across multiple time zones, the GÉANT community demonstrated again its ability to look past the challenges and focus on the positives.
New online presence
GÉANT’s online presence has grown dramatically in recent years, not just with increased social media but also with subject areas gaining their own website to better address specific stakeholder communities. In 2021 we completed this journey with a brand new GÉANT website and new subject area websites for the community, trust & identity, and security. These join existing websites dedicated to the network, clouds, impact, and the highly popular CONNECT website.
In parallel, we moved all our sites onto the WordPress platform, saving money and improving the user experience. All sites are linked with a consistent navigation menu, and we have ensured that all new sites produced meet the Web Accessibility Directive, which complements the European Accessibility Act and aims to give people with disabilities better access to online public services.
GN4-3 and GN4-3N
Together with GN4-3N, the GN4 Phase 3 (GN4-3) project is the third step in implementing the actions defined in the 68-month Framework Partnership Agreement established between the GÉANT Consortium and the European Commission. The GÉANT project is a fundamental element of the European e-infrastructure. Through its integrated catalogue of connectivity, collaboration and identity services, GÉANT, together with its National Research and Education Network (NREN) partners, provides users with unconstrained access to communication, computing, analysis, storage, applications and other resources, whenever and wherever needed.
With nearly 600 participants GN4-3 represents the largest and most complex of GÉANT’s EC projects, accounting for the majority of the organisation’s revenue and effort.
Throughout 2021, GN4-3 has maintained the operational excellence of the established GÉANT services, while still delivering a cost-efficient backbone network. The reliable, secure and state-of-the-art network services offered to researchers and other network users across Europe are exceptional due to the efforts made to ensure their relevance.
GN4-3N and GN4-3 each successfully completed their periodic review (held virtually on 18 October and from 16-18 November respectively) with packed agendas and well prepared and comprehensive presentations from all Work Packages. In the latter review, the EC Project Office and External Reviewers conducted a very thorough review, and the many detailed and well-informed questions demonstrated a clear appreciation of the scale and complexity of the project and the progress made.
Overall, the reviewers found that the project had fully achieved its objectives for the period with exceptional results of significant immediate or potential impact and commented that the project grows stronger with each review, in what was a very fair assessment of the project consortium’s work.
Earlier in the year, a virtual Project Management Convention was held for the first time, covering both projects and highlighting achievements during the first two years and planned activities for the remaining two years, ensuring alignment with the Horizon Europe FPA goals.
EuroHPC coordination meetings were held together with further activities to establish NREN readiness for potential future EuroHPC activities.
The ongoing rollout of the GN4-3N network upgrade has been impacted not only by the COVID-19 pandemic due to limitations placed on global travel and disruption to global supply chains affecting suppliers, but also by the ongoing global semiconductor shortage affecting equipment delivery and lead times.
Despite this, great progress has been made with multiple routes going into production in 2021. The project was awarded a 12-month extension and with the remaining procurements and tenders underway, GN4-3N remains on target to deliver against that extended date.
The AC3 project is halfway through its 4-year period and continues to make strong progress towards its objectives of overall coordination of the project and the procurement of connectivity, equipment, and e-infrastructures for African RRENs. In 2021 connectivity deployment in North Africa has progressed whilst in the other clusters it has been delayed due to difficulties in securing counterpart funding upfront.
To utilise budget underspend in cluster 2/3, AfricaConnect2 was extended until May 2021 and operated in parallel with AC3. Funds during this extension were limited to connectivity and equipment only and enabled the upgrade of the Algerian Connectivity and the connecting of three new countries to the WACREN backbone: Benin, Burkina Faso and Côte d’Ivoire.
In a milestone year for BELLA-S1, deployment of the EllaLink submarine cable system was completed in March and, following the installation of equipment, was inaugurated in Sines, Portugal, at the ‘Leading the Digital Decade’ in June.
Testing of BELLA connectivity in EllaLink occurred over the summer, and production traffic started to flow on BELLA on 4 August, just prior to the launch of the BELLA Programme connectivity at TICAL2021. BELLA-S is funded by the European Union via the BELLA-S1 project, which ended on 31 December 2021, and a DG DEFIS service contract, the implementation phase of which ended on 31 December 2021.
Within the EaPConnect Project, the implementation of spectrum between Moldova and Ukraine was completed and is now operational at an initial capacity of 100Gbps. This success was marked at a virtual EaPConnect spectrum launch event entitled “Stronger neighbours, stronger global R&E partners: ‘Spectrum’ digital highways interconnect Moldova, Ukraine and European partners”, held in September 2021, within the EU4Digital Steering Committee week.
Following procurement activities for the South Caucasus region, a contract for a new 10Gbps link for GRENA, Georgia, to the GÉANT PoP in Vienna, Austria, was secured. A new 10Gbps link for Azerbaijan between Baku and Frankfurt was also contracted, with implementation of both links expected in the first quarter of 2022. A further procurement activity to improve connectivity for Armenia is currently underway.
With a position on the EOSC Board, GÉANT and the NRENs are integral to the European Open Science Cloud, with GÉANT working as a partner in three projects (EOSCsecretariat.eu, EOSC Enhance, and EOSC Future) and coordinator of the OCRE project, with many NRENs involved in the EOSC Association as either full members, observers, or Mandated Organisations.
EOSC Future is the largest of the EOSC projects with a €40m investment in core infrastructure and services and, together with 12 NRENs, GÉANT is very active in this project leading the Work Packages for Architecture and Interoperability, and Procurement and Commercial Services.
The EUMEDCONNECT3 project terminated at the end of 2021. Despite requests from the partners’ governments to the EU, and strenuous efforts by the Association and ASREN so far DG NEAR has not agreed any further funding.
A contingency plan has been implemented whereby for a period of up to 12 months, Lebanon and Jordan will fund their connectivity, and project reserve funds will be used to enable the Association and ASREN to continue to provide support and continue the dialogue with DG NEAR for further funding support.
Chair of the GÉANT Community Committee
GÉANT Learning and Development
Interconnectivity with other world regions remains a priority and GÉANT continues to work closely with all global partners. For example, GÉANT supports the US NSF-funded NEA3R project that contributes to transatlantic R&E connectivity between Europe and the USA with two 100Gbps links, and in order to support the US Energy Sciences Network (ESnet) access to CERN, GÉANT provides ESnet with a London-Amsterdam-Geneva connectivity ring on the European backbone. In 2021 this was upgraded from a capacity of 100Gbps to 200Gbps.
Trust & Identity
In any human interaction, who you are and whether you can be trusted are fundamental. In our online interactions, Trust & Identity (T&I) services have become just as important, underlying mobile work and study, and the ability to access information and services from a range of sources. Despite the impacts of COVID-19 during 2020, GÉANT’s T&I activities have in 2021 gone from strength to strength.
In 2021 the use of the eduroam WiFi roaming service increased by 16% compared to 2020 as a result of the relaxing of pandemic travel restrictions. eduroam registered a total of 3.6 billion national and international authentications. NRENs around the world continue to expand access to eduroam in non-academic environments. For example, in the USA, initiatives to expand eduroam to K12 schools enabled students without access to broadband services at home to participate in remote learning and in South Africa, TENET continued to roll-out eduroam services to libraries so that students did not need to commute to their university.
REFEDS and eduGAIN
The eduGAIN interfederation service grew to 74 federations (from 71 in 2020) and over 7000 entities by the end of 2020. In response to the need to reduce the complexity for Identity and Service Providers in handling personal information, REFEDS published the Anonymous Authorization and Pseudonymous Authorization Entity Categories. These categories were developed under the auspices of SeamlessAccess who approached REFEDS to host and publish the categories. The specifications are now published on the REFEDS website and are ready for use by Federations, Identity Providers and Service Providers.
Following the launch of InAcademia in February 2020, the service has grown significantly with over 1.3 million authentications processed. In March 2021, the InAcademia team signed up one of the world’s largest student marketplace platforms, which gives access to a range of well-known online brands and services. After the initial four countries launched in 2020, France, Italy, Sweden, Turkey and Austria joined InAcademia in 2021. Also in 2021, InAcademia became the preferred route to commercial retail use of academic federated identities in France, Sweden, and Turkey. There is now an established and growing revenue stream from services using InAcademia. It is intended that surplus income will be used to support GÉANT’s Trust & Identity services in the future.
MyAcademicID hits 100,000 users
MyAcademicID marked an important milestone for the European Digital Student Service Infrastructure (EDSSI) project: the number of students using MyAcademicID to access Erasmus+ e-services and tools reached 100,000.
MyAcademicID makes it possible for higher education students participating in the Erasmus+ programme to authenticate and access their Online Learning Agreement (OLA) and the Erasmus+ App in a safe and secure way. This identity and access management solution plays a fundamental role in the digitalisation of the administrative processes related to student mobility programmes.
The MyAcademicID service has been pivotal in the rollout and support of the European Student Identifier (ESI), particularly via the implementation of the so called “IdP of last resort” functionality. A solution aimed at assisting students in 20 EU countries coming from 400 Higher Education institutions that did not support federated authentication through the national academic federations.
“The last 15 months have been phenomenal for the MyAcademicID Service and the GÉANT community. Thanks to the strong collaboration between GÉANT, the NRENs and the Federation Operators, the GÉANT community has delivered a reliable and scalable solution for the EDSSI project to support the cross-border identification of students participating in the Erasmus mobility programmes.” – Christos Kanellopoulos, Senior Trust & Identity Manager.
A New Cloud Framework empowering European R&E
2021 saw the launch and implementation of the GÉANT 2020 Cloud Framework, in conjunction with the EC funded project OCRE (Open Clouds for Research Environments). This ground-breaking framework enables researchers and research institutions in 40 European countries to procure IaaS cloud services fast, efficiently, and cost-effectively, while at the same time expanding the offering provided by GÉANT’s 2016 IaaS Framework. In 2021 alone, the two frameworks combined accounted for €47M of cloud service consumption, of which €32M was via the 2020 Cloud framework agreements in their first year of operation.
The GÉANT Clouds team had a key role in facilitating the transition towards the new framework, in strengthening the service delivery capabilities and cloud competencies of NRENs and in stimulating the adoption of services by their institutions and users. Support actions included the release of a Service delivery and Adoption system Marketplace in June 2021, the creation of tools for direct award and Desktop mini award, the organisation of training, webinars and support activities in collaboration with service providers, the production of documents and guides, including 467 Information bundles and the 2020 IaaS+ Framework Agreement Cookbook.
The Framework in numbers
cloud service consumption
actively consuming services
signed and active
Clouds For Research Environments
Having successfully delivered the GÉANT 2020 Cloud Framework, the OCRE project channelled its efforts on driving and accelerating the adoption of cloud services in the European research community through a series of funding calls and the distribution of adoption vouchers to researchers. Fifteen research projects received OCRE’s support for a total of €1.17M through the first of these calls and were able to use the procured cloud services to conduct outstanding research.
The collaboration among the GÉANT Clouds team, the OCRE project and EOSC Future ensured the alignment of the different initiatives and the inclusion of the procured services in the EOSC portal.
Funding awarded via the GÉANT Innovation Programme contributed also to the extension of the GÉANT Cloud Flow (GCF) platform, a community cloud offering aggregating cloud infrastructures and allowing their management and the implementation of resources and workflows within a single dashboard. Currently in its pilot phase, throughout 2021 the GCF platform delivered three use cases in academia and industry.
The GÉANT Multi-Cloud – a second community cloud offering allowing the deployment, management and monitoring of multiple cloud services from a single interface – was developed during the year and prepared to be released.
Cloud Community Collaborations
The GÉANT Clouds team organised 71 events in 2021, including bi-weekly NREN Cloud Forums, NREN Cloud Consultations, Infoshares, events, and workshops. The 2021 GÉANT Cloud Survey for NRENs and R&E institutions was conducted in February-March 2021 to get feedback on the satisfaction on the current GÉANT cloud portfolio, to assess cloud environments in institutions, and to capture needs, current issues, and requirements. This was followed by a series of 1-to-1 consultations with NRENs and NORDUnet, to gather the input for GÉANT’s future work in the cloud sector.
eduMEET, the GÉANT open-source videoconferencing service, substantially grew its user base, registering new instances installed at NRENs, universities, and schools all over Europe. Two new eduMEET functionalities were also developed as part of the GÉANT Innovation Programme, now allowing the creation of groups, meeting rooms, and networking opportunities and improving synchronous sharing of audio-visual materials.
The 2021 edition of the crisis management workshop for the GÉANT community took place online for the second year in row. Thanks to its growing popularity within the international R&E community, registrations were sold out one month before the event. The annual CLAW event supplies training and exercise to NREN participants from communication and technical (ICT, Security) teams as well as management. Training sessions focus on crisis management: process and human behaviour in crisis handling. The CLAW training package can be deployed by any NREN.
The growth of working from home and distance learning has accelerated during the second year of the COVID Pandemic and the need for secure access to institutional services is increasing across the community. GÉANT, together with support from RIPE NCC, the NLnet Foundation and the Vietsch Foundation continues to develop and support eduVPN.
The number of eduVPN instances grew considerably during the COVID-19 pandemic as people continue to work and study from home and need to access resources at their university remotely.
19 regions now offer eduVPN services to offer secure, private internet access while working remotely and over 100 institutions provide dedicated institutional VPN gateways to allow access to secured services and resources. https://www.eduvpn.org/countries/
“2021 saw the shift to remote learning and working become part of the normal working environment with increasing hybrid working and learning. This shift in work practices also emphasise the importance of the GN4-3 WP8 security projects on business continuity, state of the art protection against external attacks, security training and security awareness. In addition, the growing interest in security topics has been mirrored by increased participation in GN4-3 by the NREN community.”
Alf Moens, Senior Information Security Officer
In 2021, further to a gap analysis conducted by the GN4-3 Security Package (WP8) new training courses for system and network administrators were designed and subsequently delivered online. The courses covered Operational Network Security and Vulnerability Management, were accessible to the entire GÉANT community, registered a high number of participants and received positive feedback across the board.
Towards the end of 2021 WP8 launched a new training programme, ‘IT Forensics for System Administrators’, which consisted of eight live online sessions and was open to all GN4-3 participants, NRENs and participating organisations as well as to the wider CERT community. This programme reflects the importance of IT forensics when handling security incidents, an area in which administrators might not be sufficiently trained. The sessions comprise an introduction to the basic organisational steps of incident handling and forensics from the administrator’s perspective explaining methods and tools for the collection of evidence data to give administrators the possibility to fulfill their role in forensic investigations.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic most original courses were restructured and redesigned to fit the online model and, to allow access to training material, all presentations have been made available for download without any restrictions. The downloadable content includes additional training and reference material for users interested in exploring the subjects further, in addition all recorded sessions are available on YouTube.
In 2021 GÉANT also celebrated the 10th anniversary of the highly successful training initiatives: Secure Code Training (SCT) and the School of Software Engineering (SSE).
Cyber Hero @ Home
This year the GÉANT community successfully ran ‘Cyber Hero @ Home’, a pan-European campaign in the context of the European Cyber Security Month 2021 activities. The objective of the campaign was to help users to operate in a digitally safe home-working environment in order to protect and defend their devices, networks and identity; and to raise awareness of cybersecurity and cybercrime.
One of the highlights of the campaign was the programme of webinars held by security experts from industry and the wider GÉANT community. The initiative witnessed the active participation and collaboration of 27 NRENs with 35 articles and registered high levels of social media engagement with 166 original tweets and 118k impressions for the ‘Cyber Hero @ Home’ tweets from GÉANT’s Twitter account.