The University of Trás-os-Montes and Alto Douro (UTAD) describes the recent activation of its 100 Gbps connection to RCTS*, as part of the RCTS 100project as "absolutely essential". In an interview, the Vice-Rector for Innovation, Technology Transfer and Digital University of this higher education institution, João Manuel Pereira Barroso, highlights the various dimensions in which this change will have an impact.
What is the significance and impact of the activation of the connection of the University of Trás-os-Montes e Alto Douro to the national 100 Gbps education and research network?
The University of Trás-os-Montes e Alto Douro develops its activities in the three classic axes of teaching, research and extension to the community. In each of these axes there are specific needs for access to online services, which can only be used effectively if there is an adequate speed network connection. The activation of the 100 Gbps connection provides this connectivity and is absolutely essential to enhance the action of the university.
What practical examples can be given of this impact with regard to teaching activities?
In terms of teaching activities and the student community, it is normal the use of mobile devices such as laptops and smartphones, in a ratio of 2 devices per student. This characteristic requires a network, on the one hand, with the capacity to connect and manage all these devices, and on the other, with the capacity to provide sufficient bandwidth to all. Currently, the usage profile of today's students is very much about accessing cloud services and multimedia content (such as high quality videos), which naturally implies a very large aggregate bandwidth.
And what about the scientific research dimension?
In terms of scientific research, online access to scientific production, such as scientific publications and the b-on service, has transformed the way some parts of the research process are conducted. The search and download of full text content, which replaces the old library visit, is indeed very convenient and effective, but it also depends on a high speed network connection. The academic community of UTAD depends heavily on the quality of this connection to successfully conduct projects and scientific research activities.
Across teaching and research, there are all management processes (such as classes, juries, project management, etc.), which are now strongly based on cloud services for information storage and management and on online collaboration services such as Colibri/Zoom and Microsoft Teams. These services enhance the efficiency of processes and, by their nature, are also only feasible with this network connection.
There are also new possibilities open when it comes to the field of Advanced Computing. Why?
As UTAD is part of the National Network for Advanced Computing (RNCA), the activation of the 100Gbps connection will open up new possibilities for interaction between its Competence Centre and Advanced Centres. In particular, in research and development projects that, by handling large amounts of data and requiring high computational power, are greatly enhanced by this high speed, low latency connection. The activation of this connection has an impact on the University's mission, promoting the dissemination of innovative scientific knowledge, being an important factor of territorial cohesion.
What is the importance and impact that the services and digital projects of the FCCN Unit have on the daily life of the UTAD community?
If we understand grid connection as a utility, in the same terms as the availability of electricity or piped water, the question no longer arises in terms of the benefits of this service. It is in terms of the impossibility of operating without it. The network itself is something ubiquitous that provides access to electronic services. These are the ones that really impact the daily life of the UTAD community.
In recent years there are some services that have become indispensable. I would highlight the portal CIÊNCIA VITAE, which allows the identification of researchers and greatly simplifies the management of scientific projects and the b-on which, through the contractualization of access, allows the academic community to have access to scientific publications, access to knowledge, and the development of scientific research.
I also highlight eduroam, which simplifies the mobility of students and professors in the academic universe, in a transparent and ubiquitous way, as well as Colibri which, in these last few years of the pandemic, has asserted itself as the videoconferencing tool of the Portuguese university, creating new habits and new ways of doing things, which are definitely here to stay.
Finally, there is also a set of services, which are not the direct responsibility of the FCCN Unit, but can be effectively used thanks to the infrastructure and network connection, which are the collaboration services in the cloud, such as Office 365.
* Project co-financed by the Technical Assistance Operational Program, Portugal 2020 and the European Union, through the European Regional Development Fund.