Portugal INCoDe.2030




Manager of the Network Services Area of the FCCN Unit at FCT, Ana Pinto, explains the main novelties involved in the RCTS 100, as well as its impact on higher education and research institutions in Portugal. The changes that are already being implemented will make it possible to respond to the needs of entities linked to the Portuguese academic network.

 On the 13th of November, we witnessed the inauguration of two access upgrades to the national academic network, in Bragança and Vila Real, as part of the RCTS100 project. What does this project consist of and at which is the current stage of its implementation?

RCTS100 essentially consists of expanding the fiber optic infrastructure and technological updating of the Portuguese academic network, the RCTS, involving an investment of 17.2 million euros. In addition to these two essential objectives, it was also possible to dedicate part of this amount to training the internal networks of some public higher education entities.

The project is expected to end in September 2021, and some important goals have already been achieved, namely in terms of expanding the fiber optic infrastructure. Six new routes have already been activated, enabling the connection at 10Gbps of the Polytechnic Institutes of Beja, Bragança, Viseu and the University of Trás-os-Montes and Alto Douro (UTAD).

It was also possible to create two new rings [on the network]: Beira Litoral ring (Polytechnic Institutes of Leiria and Tomar) and Alto Alentejo ring (University of Évora and Polytechnic Institutes of Portalegre, Setúbal, Castelo Branco and Santarém). University of Algarve’s fiber connection is under construction.

And what other steps are being taken, regarding the RCTS’ technological update?

Within the scope of the network’s technological evolution, the challenge is to make it more scalable, both in terms of the number of services provided and in terms of increased redundancy and resilience to failures. After several analyzes and simulations, it was decided to adopt Segment Routing. We believe that this evolved version of the IP routing protocols that we are building brings together attributes of both simplicity and scalability. On the other hand, it ensures advanced protection mechanisms and traffic engineering that will allow us to provide a new generation RCTS.

Also in terms of the network’s technological evolution, but within the scope of its capacity building, the progressive upgrade of the various network assets is already underway, in order to assure the evolution of the RCTS. This in order to move from a network that guarantees the delivery of 10Gbps services to a network that will deliver services at 100Gbps. This technological migration translates into a massive increase in the bandwidth available to RCTS entities.

Finally, in terms of international connections, we are reinforcing the ability to interconnect the RCTS with other networks, through the provision of multiple 100Gbps ports, for connection to Rediris [Spanish academic network], the GÉANT network, GigaPIX or ISPs Tier1. In 2020, the new Lisbon international routers were activated. For 2021, the activation of the international router in Porto is planned.

  This project is also presented as a response to the digital divide. What does this phenomenon consist of and how is it mitigated by RCTS100?

“Digital divide” is a term that, in this case, applies to the difference in connectivity services available to entities located in different regions of the country. In the case of RCTS, given that its fiber infrastructure was mostly located on the coast and in the metropolitan areas of Lisbon and Oporto, there was a marked difference between the connectivity services available to entities located there and those located in the northern interior, or in the South of the country. In these regions, the services provided depended on contracting ethernet services, with limited capacity.

Whenever one of these entities not served by the fiber infrastructure had an urgent need to use bandwidth, this need was difficult to satisfy because it involved contractual changes, costs, market consultations and long implementation times.

RCTS100 guarantees equal conditions of access to the network whether the entity is located on the coast, in the inland or in the south of the country. This is because, in addition to standardizing fiber access, we will also ensure the activation of an optical transmission system with national coverage that will enable the delivery of multiple services at 100Gbps.

 What are some of the possibilities guaranteed by this upgrade for the higher education institutions covered by the project?

In addition to the direct investment granted to 9 higher education entities to train their internal networks, all entities belonging to the RCTS will benefit from this project. It is about guaranteeing a new generation of RCTS, a network prepared to support and leverage the activities of entities connected to the network, to transport their services and critical applications, as well as their research traffic.

By making the network more redundant and resilient, we are ensuring better convergence times, in case of failure, and faster service restoration. This will ensure a better quality of services provided to entities, which increasingly depend on the Internet connection to ensure internal services.

On the other hand, the large capacity of the network to provide services at 100Gbps will support the increase in traffic originated both by research traffic and the increase in data that have to be transported, as well as by the traffic caused by the ongoing digital transformation processes.

Does the pandemic context we are going through have anything to do with this change?

The pandemic situation we are experiencing has ended up changing, in a pronounced way, the way people interact, learn, teach or work. Teaching and research entities were encouraged to embrace or accelerate digital transformation processes. By creating new digital pedagogical methods, using information technologies and the accentuated use of multimedia content, it was possible to transfer their courses to online platforms and continue teaching.

This change created opportunities to expand its markets of operation, since education was now ensured at a global level. This globalization must be guaranteed without restrictions and with high communications capacity – the RCTS100 is precisely to ensure and support the ongoing transition.

  Another dimension of the national academic network is scientific and research activity. How will these improvements impact this type of activity?

RCTS100 and the availability of multiple services at 100Gbps reinforce the response to the need for entities to change their network connection model, in order to ensure that the different communities they serve effectively take advantage of the high capacity available.

The scientific and research communities often have connectivity requirements that, in order to be satisfied in current local network topologies, would imply substantial investments. For example, if an entity’s network has an RCTS access topology where the boundary equipment is a firewall, we know that its upgrade to 100Gbps support will require a large budget.

Thus, we have been supporting the need to create a connection model to the RCTS that advocates the creation of Scientific DMZ [perimeter networks] calls. In this access topology, the need for all traffic to pass through the firewall is dropped, with access to the RCTS being guaranteed by a high-performance routing equipment, which will be responsible for dividing the traffic according to its nature – internal network traffic or investigation traffic. This division of connectivity for scientific applications enables the implementation of appropriate security mechanisms and direct access to the required transmission capacity.

We believe that Scientific DMZs are the way to respond to the growing need to share high volumes of data and computing resources. There are already several RCTS entities that have activated this type of network access topology. For entities that want to know more about this connection architecture, we are available to help, sharing the information we have collected.

  Is there anything you would like to add?

This is undoubtedly a very ambitious project, which involves a lot of work, but which motivates us, every day, to do even more, as we believe that it is a unique opportunity to improve the connectivity services provided to the RCTS community. Finally, I would like to thank this same community, in particular the IT centers and our technical contacts. They are our eyes and our remote hands. Thank you so much for all your support in this RCTS transformation process!