Enabling Communities

As in previous years, I’m enjoying my time at the TERENA Networking Conference tremendeously. I’m hearing inspiring talks, I’m learning about new technology developments, I’m experiencing new ways people are making progress in our area – and I’m seeing cool applications, made posible by the imagination and creativity of smart users and the technology we are building. There’s all that, and more, the content if you will, that make us come back to conferences like the TNC.

And yet, we all know that’s not really why we come. Impressive and rewarding as the conference program is, it’s the intangibles that make the TNC a fixed item on my calendar. It’s the people here, the chance for coffee conversations, having that quick meeting, progressing that item on the endless todo list that’s just too complicated to get done by email. And – even more intangible – it’s all the unplanned interactions. It’s coming across that inspiring conversation, making a crucial connection of ideas or people that you didn’t see before. Chad Kainz in this morning’s plenary called it “the bar problem” – happening to be in the right bar at the right time to be inspired or come across the solution to a problem. Venues like the TNC are great enablers for solving the bar problem.

But this is not something that just happens. It’s a delicate process. You want the right mix of people in the audience, you want the right buzz of ideas in the halls, you want the shared experiences and the provokinb points, you want an audience that feel engaged and want to participate – not just listen to the talks. And you want the opportunities to socialize and have productive meetings and conversations. We want our conference to enable possibilities, just like our networks enable possibilities for our users.

Over the years the TNC (and the TERENA staff, program committies, etc) has done a great job getting the mix right – a mix that makes the conference a great community enabler, both for the networking community at large and for the many small communities that make this field thrive and make it so interesting. The planning for TNC2011 is already starting, and as I will be part of the team this time, enabling communities will be a big concern for me. I hope we can engage communities large and small, and I hope to hear from you how the conference can best serve your communities.

Green networks

I had a sense of deja vu this morning, listening to Victor Reijs presentation on “green IT” at the TERENA Technical Advisory Council meeting in Vilnius. It was an excellent presentation, making a strong case that the European R&E networks need a forum for focused collaboration, sharing, and new initiatives in sustainability and green IT.

Two years ago – at the TERENA Networking Conference in Bruges – I gave a brief presentation on Green IT and its relevance to the research & education networking community. I suggested then that this is a topic that warrant far more attention from the community, a topic with interesting and important work to be done – and a topic where we in Europe need to do much more to match the excellent work done in North America.

Since then, sustainability has been included in the GN3 project, as a study in Environmental Impact of research network. There is fine and important work being done in this task; the CHG study in a major contribution. In addition, a number of European R&E Networks have made contributions, notably a CHG study in Netherlands by SURFnet and HEAnet joining the GreenStar Network project. However, much remains to be done, and compared to the North America we’re still not doing much.

Victor presented well today on the achievements in the past two years. He also made a strong case for doing more, and doing it together. More than anything, I think the presentation made it clear that we have succeeded in creating a European R&E community, albeit a fledgling one. We have something to build on that allows us to formulate more expansive goals, and to do something concrete and involving together. I think the time for a TERENA taskforce is ripe, if not overdue.