Neil Shewry, head of infrastructure delivery… thoughts

A year or so ago Jisc announced that it would be embarking on a programme of work to refresh connectivity to all 1000 members and customers – the Janet Access Programme. The new access infrastructure delivered by the programme would be capable of supporting an enhanced set of connectivity services, scaled to last 3-5 years (and more), whilst preserving Janet’s already stellar levels of reliability, resilience and security. No mean feat, given that every traffic graph is pointing up and to the right, while every funding graph is heading the other way.

Fast forward a year, and after multiple procurements, delayed product launches, and a whole load of meetings, and we’re still planning! For good reason though. During my time at Jisc (previously Janet, previously UKERNA) there has been a steady flow of regional network refreshes, and in almost every case the new network would share most of the design principles and traits of the network it was replacing. Such projects were so regular and so predictable that they were very much considered BAU (a contradiction of the word ‘project’ I know).

The changes we’re implementing this time round certainly aren’t BAU, they’re wholesale, so the overall process has needed considerably more thought. Moving from a layer 3 regional network to a layer 2 regional network is one such change that couldn’t be adopted lightly – resilience and rerouting in failure scenarios became a particular hot topic for debate!

The equipment we’ll be using is new (to Jisc) so needs to be tested, which is why we’ve invested in a lab setup at our Network Ops Centre in London, to get our hands on the equipment and start to build some test networks. The set of connectivity products we’ll be using has evolved since we last went to market, so there are new suppliers, processes and technologies to get to grips with. We’ll be deploying more dark fibre where available and cost-effective. All change in almost all aspects of the way we build regional network infrastructure.

As head of infrastructure delivery at Jisc, it won’t surprise you to hear that I’m keen to get on and start actually delivering something soon, but I can’t overstate enough the importance of getting the design right (and then checking it, and then checking it again, and then probably again).

Whilst the key objective of saving public money isn’t impacted by subtle changes to design details, preserving a vital set of services to members is, so there really isn’t too many times every component of every design can be checked, and that is why each project is overseen by a team of expert network architects, engineers and project managers, and further overseen by a programme board, all of whom have their eyes closely on all of the details.

So where are we now? Well we’re ‘getting there’ in terms of confirming the scope, design and implementation plan the first few projects. Design for the South region of Janet has been finalised, and contracts are being drafted with a view to placing orders in the coming weeks; we’re currently putting the final touches to the design of the South West region; and initial planning has started for the London, West Midlands and North West regions.

With each project spanning approximately 12 months from contract to completion, over the next 12-18 months we’ll start to see genuine progress in delivering replacement access infrastructures, connectivity to Members being enhanced, and ultimately benefits being realised, so watch this space!

If you’d like to know more about the Janet Access Programme, you can head to the Jisc website:

We’re also running a series of Tech 2 Tech events that all Members are invited to attend:

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