Summary of the Campus Networks and ngREN Design Workshop, OAU Ife, July 10-15, 2011

The Nigeria ICT Forum and the Network Startup Resource center (NSRC) of the University of Oregon, organized an intensive, week long, hands-on workshop on Campus Network Design and REN Development, that was hosted by the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife (OAU), on July 10-15, 2011.

An international troupe of six (6) NSRC traveling geeks from the United States (Steven Huter, Dale Smith and Ron Milford), England (Brian Candler), Chile (Hervey Allen) and from Germany (Jens Kuehlers), was ensembled at Ife to train and guide 34 network engineers from 20 Nigerian universities, agencies and organizations.

The 34 delegates were from the Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba; Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria; Bayero University Kano; Benson Idahosa University, Benin; Ebonyi State University, Abakaliki; Federal University of Technology, Akure; Micheal Okpara University of Agriculture, Umudike; National Board for Technical Education, Kaduna; National Teachers' Institute, Kaduna; Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka; Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife (OAU); University of Abuja; University of Agriculture, Abeokuta; University of Agriculture, Makurdi; University of Benin; University of Ibadan; University of Ilorin; University of Jos; University of Nigeria, Nsukka; and the University of Port Harcourt. It was delightful to see new inter-institutional and inter-sectoral bonding taking place, as this is essential for successful NREN formation.

This training program emphasized the importance of the campus network as the foundation in developing a robust, high performance National Research and Education Network (NREN). The hands-on course addressed design methodologies, including physical cabling, switching architectures, core campus routing and border network design (BGP) for institutions. The objectives were to:

  • Train network engineering staff on how to develop a strategic design plan for their campus networks to facilitate successful participation in the Nigerian and Regional Research and Education Networks;
  • Provide current best practices in designing and building hierarchical networks using structured cabling systems, layer 2 switches and layer 3 routers, including where to route and where to switch in campus networks;
  • Improve engineering skills and technical knowledge of campus networking staff to enable them operate their physical networks; and
  • Strengthen the Nigerian technical community (including, the human networks) to develop Nigeria's Research and Education cyberinfrastructure.

Delegates were grouped in to five, each on a seperate table in the laboratory. Each table was then provisioned with all the networking equipment and number resources required to simulate a campus network or a cluster of campus networks. Each group was then taught how to configure and operate its own network, and inter-connect as peers with the other different institutional networks, an Internet Exchange Point and a provider, effectively simulating the ngREN or a regional cluster in the laboratory.

For this remarkable hands-on activity to happen, 27 cartons of books and two and a half tonnes of donated networking equipment, including all the switches and routers required, were shipped to the Forum by the NSRC, and made available to delegates. At the conclusion of the activity, these were in turn donated by the Forum to the delegates and their institutions (respectively), to facilitate continuing education of the delegates and improvement of their campus networks.

The principal goal of helping to improve campus networks in Nigeria to prepare for the creation of the physical infrastructure for a Nigerian Research and Education Network has been remarkably achieved.

Never before had so much and so many resources been invested in a single training activity by the Forum and our friends and their friends. Support for this event was sourced for and provided variously, and is all deeply appreciated. In particular, however, the Carnegie Corporation of New York (which provides support to NSRC, the Forum and OAU Ife); Google Inc. (which has given support to both NSRC and the Forum, contributed an instructor and donated some of the equipment); and the MacArthur Foundation, which supports both the Forum and the University of Ibadan (where an onsite network audit and consultation was provided during this event), should be mentioned. We also thank the International Research Network Connections program of the U.S. National Science Foundation for help with developing our national cyberinfrastructure via the NSRC.

On-site inspection and consulting was provided to the University of Ibadan on Friday 8th July, and to the workshop host institution throughout our stay at Ife. Network documentation and Case studies of our campus networks and how to anticipate bottlenecks and resolve them, were treated at evening tutorials. Delegates fully utilized the ensembled experts to consult on their campus networks at every "free" chance they could get.

Perhaps most importantly, it was delightful to note the healthy trend of seamless transitions of university administrations, integrity of strategic ICT visions and consistency of support for the Forum at key institutions like the University of Ibadan (UI) (where instructors and organizaers stopped for a day, to meet with the new VC (Professor I.F. Adewole) and witness the first meeting of the Ibadan REN cluster), and at the Obafemi Awolowo University.

Just a couple of weeks in Office, the new Vice-Chancellor of the Obafemi Awolowo University at Ife (OAU), Professor Idowu Bamitale Omole, was at hand to address and open this workshop. He pledged to host the Nigerian Network Operators Group workshop in a few months; to grow the Ife REN cluster and appointed a coordinator for it; and to discuss its interconnection with the nearby Ibadan REN cluster.

Now, if those are not best examples of new university administrations that were actually "running on landing" and taking us all to our envisioned destination, we would like to know your proposal!