The Edinburgh and Stirling Metropolitan Area Network
A version of the following discussion was presented at a colloquium on "Extending the LAN - high speed data services", Institution of Electrical Engineers, Monday 24th April, 1995. For further information or discussion please contact the author.
Who is involved in the EaStMAN Project?
The EaStMAN consortium currently comprises of seven Higher Education funded institutions (HEIs) in the Edinburgh and Stirling region:
The Universities of
- Napier and
- Edinburgh College of Art,
- Moray House Institute of Education and
- Queen Margaret College.
Aims of the EaStMAN Project
The aim of EaStMAN is to provide a pervasive multi-service network using Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) throughout the region with the potential to encompass educational, hospital academic departments, public and private sector partners etc.
Considerable benefits are perceived in pursuing the collaborative route to improving communications infrastructure through a MAN. For example, when compared with `going it alone', costs may be effectively reduced by sharing infrastructure. In so doing, we may achieve better intra- and inter-institution communication, provide early access to high speed networks to stimulate and support multi-media applications, for example, medical imaging, pace and distance learning, library sharing, integration of telephony and security services.
Experience with Suppliers
Before funding appeared on the horizon, a technical group carried out an initial study, involving specification of a MAN and its functionality, as well as examining the technical solutions by which it could be achieved. Meetings and discussions with the local providers of telecommunications services helped considerably in that phase.
Deregulation of the telecommunications industry in the UK has resulted in considerable local changes in the technical possibilities available for network provision. For example, newer entrants in the telecommunications marketplace (such as cable TV, utility companies etc) often offer very competitive and aggressive rates for traditional tariffed circuit services. All are seeking that differentiator between the various suppliers.
Suppliers were extremely interested in the project and were able to respond with a variety of suggestions:
- `Self installed': the various institutions could procure the installation of their own fibre. In this mode, the customer supplies the equipment and can migrate at own pace, the upward path to higher speed is practically unlimited and is dependent on the capabilities of customer equipment.
- `Open fibre': that is, unlit fibre but managed and owned by the supplier. The characteristics of this service are similar to own fibre, but incurs a recurrent charge to the customer. When the customer requires more fibres, there is also a charge.
- `Open circuit': several suppliers were able to offer E3 34Mbps PDH circuits, Ethernet (2km), FDDI (15km), but the recurrent costs for these options tends to be high.
- `Managed services': some suppliers regard the provision of unlit fibre as `not making good business sense', and state that they will never provide this service. Suppliers have suggested variously: cross-connect ATM switches, fully meshed, and SMDS.
- `STM-1': it was interesting to observe that 155Mbps circuits were available in the wide area (for example between Edinburgh and Stirling). Estimated costs were reasonable for this type of service.
- `Consortium approach:' some suppliers wish to provide the whole managed network, penetrating as far as is possible into the organisational structure of the customer - in some cases it was stated that structured cabling within buildings and running to the desktop was possible. (The afore-mentioned `Managed ATM' is an example of a collaboration between a fibre-rich supplier and an equipment vendor, but the degree of penetration in that case is not so high.)
Appearance of Funding and MAN Phase IIn September 1994, the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council (SHEFC) invited bids to improve networking infrastructure within Scottish HEIs. As a condition, successful institutions were committed to meeting 20% of the SHEFC supplied funding. During the evaluation phase of the bids, the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) enhanced the funding pool, recognising the role which MANs could play in the rollout of SuperJANET.
The aforementioned technical project team rapidly expanded, turned itself into the EaStMAN consortium and carried out an open procurement for the first stage of the MAN. The consortium subsequently accepted an offer from ScottishTelecom (a company evolved from the telecommunications arm of ScottishPower) to lease open monomode fibre running between ten important HEI sites. We have proceeded to procure routing and ATM switching equipment to attach to the fibre network.
Phase I of the project, with some possible Phase 2 sites, is shown in the attached Figures (the Annex contains a key to the site names for the interested):
The geographical map
- shows the infrastructure consisting of a number of monomode
fibres in a ring connected through the ten sites shown in the map. The
fibres will be employed to construct parallel networks for production,
experimental and migration purposes. The University of Stirling is
connected to the MAN at the King's Buildings site via a 155Mbps
SDH/STM-1 managed service from ScottishTelecom.
The technology map
- shows the two inter-connected networking technologies for EaStMAN Phase I. Firstly, there is a 100Mbps FDDI ring between the ten Edinburgh city sites; the circumference of the ring is 58km. This network will deliver SuperJANET IP services to various HEIs via the King's Buildings SMDS interface, as well as general metropolitan connectivity. Five sites will also participate in a 155Mbps SDH/STM-1 ATM network, which is connected to both the Stirling campus and to the SuperJANET ATM Pilot network.
The target date for completion of the infrastructure is end of May 1995, full user service on the first stage MAN will commence by July 1995.
Some MAN ApplicationsAt this time, we are in a period of tooling up for the new applications which are going to become possible through the MAN and new technologies. Education and information for the potential user population is important and ongoing. As examples, plans have been made for
- delivery of SuperJANET services to HEIs and other partners;
- remote ultra-sound scanning experiments;
- video conferencing trials and evaluation;
- multi-processing across high speed networks between clusters of work stations and supercomputers;
- remote library facilities;
- integration of directory data services.
The current Edinburgh and Stirling MAN is, as it were, in its infancy. However, strong interest from other potential partners has been demonstrated, before the first phase MAN is in place. Even within the founding HEI group, strong interest from researchers and teachers has demonstrated the need to extend to other sites as soon as is possible, in order to bring departments closer together. The challenge is to demonstrate the value added by the MAN in order to ensure its expansion.
Annex 1: Management Structures
At the present time, EaStMAN is overseen by a Management Group (MMG) while day to day operational matters are handled by the MAN Operations Centre (MOC) which is the EUCS Network Services Division. Models for recurrent funding, rules for expansion of the network and its use have been proposed and are under discussion. It may be the case that as the partnership on the MAN changes, the management group will evolve into some other structure.
Annex 2: Site Key used in the Geographical MapPhase I sites on the map are:
KB King's Buildings (U of E) OC Old College (U of E) NC New College (U of E) Poll Pollock Halls (U of E) MH Moray House QMC Queen Margaret College - Clermiston NM Napier Merchiston NS Napier Sighthill HW Heriot-Watt Riccarton CoA Edinburgh College of Art
The possible Phase 2 sites marked in red are:
Edinburgh College of Art - Lauriston campus Western General Hospital (U of E) Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh (U of E) Moray House - Cramond campus Napier Craig House Napier Craiglockart Queen Margaret College - Leith Linkswith some possible later phases being, among others:
Royal Edinburgh Hospital (U of E) Royal Observatory (U of E) Bush Estate (U of E) Gateway Studios (QMC) Scottish School of Textiles (Galashiels - HW)