The Silk Project

The silk project was initially envisaged as an infrastructure creation project to provide first-class Internet connectivity to research and educational facilities in a number of countries in Southern Asia by means of the most up-to-date satellite networking systems (which was felt to be the most practicable approach at the time) to insure against a potential fall in academic achievements and this was approved for funding by NATO in late 2001 At the NATO Science Committee Meeting in Georgia. This system was fully operational by early in 2003, facilitating cooperation via easy communications between teaching and research establishments throughout the region and between this region and similar establishments throughout the rest of the world. The countries most affected were to include Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan and although political and social problems in Afghanistan have made progress difficult in that country considerable progress has been achieved and upon termination of the project further work on a similar nature is now being carried out under the aegis of the CAREN (Central Asian Research and Education Network) Project.

The aims of the project have been to provide an extensible information highway on an international basis rather than just between select stakeholders, connected into both local and European NRENs (National Research and Educational Networks) with staged upgrades, a maintenance schedule and regional training programs; encourage international collaboration in the fields of research and education, and plan for future upgrades to the entire system from a satellite to a fibre optic based infrastructure. A major condition of access to this system is that Internet traffic must be related to educational and academic issues and not commercial matters. Individual local NRENs are responsible for creating acceptable use policies and deciding which of their institutions should benefit from access whilst the whole system is monitored from a control centre as insurance to make sure that the available bandwidth is distributed in an equitable manner on a one by one basis and insure against local bottlenecks.

The system incorporates modern data caching techniques. This means that if a request is made for information a search is first made to find out whether or not the required data is actually held within the one system; if this is the case it is retrieved and presented to the searcher, instead of the request going via satellite to a European node, resulting in greater efficiency and cost savings.

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Such a major project as this has required major contributors and not only the countries involved themselves, but the World Bank and the USA State Department as well as entities such as Cisco systems Inc, the DESY( Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron) Research Institute, the GEANT pan-European data network, the SOROS Foundation, The United Nations Development Programme and a number of major universities worldwide have assisted in the success of the project. Cisco has donated approximately $400,000 worth of networking equipment equipment; DESY has volunteered to provide personnel to manage the European hub, maintain the whole network and provide connectivity to GEANT which then provides access to other educational and research establishments throughout the world. Meanwhile the project management function and infrastructure support is being provided by UCL (University College London) and Groningen University, assisted by grants from the EEC whilst an NOC has been established in Hamburg to assist with day-to-day operations such as manning a multilingual helpdesk and coordinating maintenance and repair issues.

Why was the name 'The Silk Project' chosen? The original Silk Road, which connected Asia (particularly Central Asia) and parts of Africa to Europe, was not only a caravan trade route which enriched both the region and those countries that traded with them by allowing goods to flow to fresh markets but it was also a conduit for the exchange of new ideas, the spread of knowledge, and an increased understanding between the region and the rest of the world. In a similar way the main purpose of The Silk Project was to facilitate access to the same exchange of information between major research and educational facilities.


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