Review of the 2015-2018 Strategic Plan
SURF's Strategic Plan for 2015-2018 gave direction to the collaboration between the institutions within SURF during this period. Each year, working together with the institutions, the topics of the Strategic Plan were translated into annual plans with concrete results.
Recent developments were continually taken into account in the implementation of the individual annual plans. The table below provides a review of SURF's Strategic Plan 2015-2018. We carried out numerous projects in these four years, always in cooperation with the institutions, and conducted research, provided tools and aids, and launched new services and products. An overview:
Easy and reliable network access is essential for education and research. SURF has ensured good network connectivity in many ways from 2015 to 2018.
The next generation of the SURFnet network has been under development since 2015: SURFnet8. The tendering process for the service layer was successfully completed in 2017, and a contract with our partner Telindus was signed at the end of the year. The migration of the new optical layer was completed in 2018. The second phase of the project, the migration of the service layer, will start at the beginning of 2019. This migration is expected to be fully completed in 2021. In 2016, we split the network management into complex and operational network management, and entered into a partnership with Quanz for the operational management.
100G functionality became available on NetherLight in 2015. As a result of this upgrade, international R&E partners have made use of our services for the fastest connections: among others, ESnet, NORDUnet, GÉANT, CERN and the trans-Atlantic consortium Advanced North Atlantic (ANA) have been connecting to NetherLight with 100G since 2015.
In 2015, SURF made the Microsoft Azure cloud platform available via a direct, secure and fast connection: SURF lightpaths. Several institutions were already using Microsoft Azure, but, thanks to SURF's collaboration with Microsoft and TelecityGroup, they could also use Microsoft Express Route from then on, a secure connection with guaranteed bandwidth over SURF lightpaths (and therefore not via the public Internet).
In 2018, SURF explored potential applications of 5G for educational and research institutions. To this end, we participated in the 5Groningen project and established a smart-campus testing ground.
SURF launched the Wifi-as-a-service (WaaS) project in 2014, which later became known as the SURFwireless service. SURFwireless was prepared, and an invitation to tender was issued in 2015. The service went live in 2016, when institutions were actually able to use it.
eduroam Visitor Access & govroam
The eduroam Visitor Access service was rolled out as part of SURF's range of services. As of 2015, this enables visitors to use the location's WiFi network easily and securely. 50 institutions were making use of this service at the beginning of 2018. Govroam, a variant of eduroam that gives civil servants safe and easy access to WiFi networks in government organisations, achieved a breakthrough in 2015.
Automation and orchestration
We have explored the possibilities of automation and orchestration. For instance, we have been working on an automation and orchestration framework, with which the provision of network services can be automated and which makes integration with other systems possible. This enables us to meet the existing and future network needs of users.
SURF has facilitated the most advanced computational and data-intensive research programmes to ensure that Dutch research can play a role at a global level. In recent years, we have been providing high-quality services in the areas of computing infrastructure, data storage and retrieval, visualisation and expertise, among other things. The renewal of these services is a continuous process.
Computing power and data storage
More and more researchers are making use of the national calculation systems Lisa and Cartesius.
- The capacity of Cartesius grew to 1.8 Pflop/s in 2016 - and the project has been economically viable since the end of 2017.
- In 2018, the Lisa Calculation Cluster was expanded with a GPU Cluster for extremely fast calculations. These graphics processing units are particularly suitable for machine learning.
- The new HPC Cloud was made accessible to the Dutch academic and research community in 2015. The High Performance Computing Cloud offers high computing power, fast data storage and a fast network.
- The national Grid facility at SURF was used to measure gravitational waves in October 2017. This research was initiated by the recent winners of the Nobel Prize for Physics, and measured the gravity of 2 black holes.
- The Sentinel-5P satellite was put into orbit in October 2017. Tropomi, a Dutch instrument that maps the air quality and distribution of greenhouse gases, was onboard this satellite. SURF is helping to analyse and process the data from this satellite.
- MinE is an international project to detect the genetic causes of ALS, a deadly muscular nerve disease. SURF provided storage and analysis facilities for the millions of gigabytes of DNA data generated by the project.
SURF Open Innovation Lab
Following preparatory work in 2016, the SURF Open Innovation Lab was launched in 2017. The SURF Open Innovation Lab brings together all the activities and experiments in the field of early innovation and open collaboration. We do this in cooperation with institutions and companies. The knowledge, expertise, and facilities that are developed within the SURF Open Innovation Lab can be used by SURF, SURF institutions, and partners for innovation in technology, products and services. Projects are currently being carried out in the field of machine learning, enhanced HPC applications and quantum computing. A project on 3D printing for scientific visualization has now also been concluded.
We opened our new data centre in the Amsterdam Science Park in late 2016. The new HPC data centre enables us to respond quickly, sustainably and cost-efficiently to the growing needs of researchers from knowledge institutions, as well as from the business community. The data centre is powered by 100% green energy. The heat from the cooling system is fed to the groundwater layers, where it is stored for use in winter.
The personal cloud storage service SURFdrive, which was launched in 2014, grew considerably between 2015-2018. SURFdrive had nearly 13,000 users by the end of 2015, and grew to serve more than 40,000 users by the end of 2018.
Research Drive was launched in 2018 specifically for research teams that want to store and share large amounts of research data online. Research teams want to be able to share their data with national and international cooperation partners in a secure, clear and flexible manner. Research Drive offers easy access to various storage systems and tools in an online environment. This makes it possible to view all the data at a single glance.
We launched the new Jupyter Notebook service in 2016, for which we rolled out a multi-user environment. Jupyter Notebook is an open-source solution for creating notebooks: i.e. interactive web documents that can contain code, visualizations and text.
Object Store: Online storage for large amounts of data
We launched Object Store in 2018: an online storage service for storing large amounts of research data. This service is ideal for storing various types of data. There is no limit to the amount of storage space, and data remains accessible quickly and easily.
Collaboration within PRACE
SURF was active within PRACE in 2015-2018. European countries cooperate closely in the field of high-performance computing (HPC). This has led to the Partnership for Advanced Computing in Europe (PRACE), which gives top researchers access to Europe's fastest systems. This enables the Netherlands to continue to compete with countries such as China and the US in the field of HPC. SURF participates in the PRACE project on behalf of the Netherlands. Our national supercomputer, Cartesius, is one of the Tier 1 systems and is therefore part of PRACE's research infrastructure. In June 2016, Anwar Osseyran, director of SURFsara, was elected president of PRACE for a period of 2 years. PRACE-2 was set up and approved during this period.
In 2017, PRACE selected SURF as one of the 4 new PRACE Training Centres (PTC). This has made it possible for us to organise more training courses for high-performance computing.
European projects within Horizon2020
We have regularly and successfully participated in various project proposals within Horizon2020, such as the EOSC pilot, the EOSC hub, EUDAT2, PRACE-5IP, PRACE-6IP, HNSciCloud, HPC- Europa3 and HPCGIG.
In the field of sustainability, URF has launched a number of studies, tools and events that have helped to raise awareness and share knowledge.
A few examples:
- The SURF Green IT Maturity Model was made available in 2015. This allows institutions to scan the maturity of the green IT within their organisation.
- In December 2016, we conducted a survey among universities and colleges regarding their policy on sustainable IT. We specifically addressed their handling of e-waste (electronic waste). The 'E-waste in higher education: are institutions 'in control'?' report offers results and recommendations.
- Universities and colleges dispose of their electrical appliances (e-waste) in different ways. This fragmentation leaves room for improvement. With the 'Grip on e-waste' report (2017), we supported educational institutions in making their entire IT removal process more sustainable.
- We have been working with The Ocean Cleanup, an organisation dedicated to removing the 'plastic soup' from the sea, since 2017. The Ocean Cleanup uses computing time on our Cartesius supercomputer to better predict the effects of currents and waves.
- In 2018, we carried out an exploratory study on how education can make a greater and more structural contribution to the energy transition in the Netherlands. The strategic options have been elaborated in the 'Electricity: More green, real green' study.
- In 2018, we also developed overviews for a number of IT product groups, with criteria that help buyers and IT managers establish a sustainable approach to the procurement of IT.
- The National Day for Sustainability in Higher Education (NDDHO) has been held annually since 2015. This day focuses on the latest developments in the field of green IT and sustainability in higher education and research in the Netherlands. The SustainaBul is awarded during the event, a prize for the number 1 in the field of sustainability among Dutch universities and colleges.
We have developed security services and have worked on standards for secure cloud services. We have also worked hard to make institutions more resilient to security incidents and cyber-attacks.
Cyber Threat Assessment
A sector-specific Cyber Threat Assessment was published for the first time in 2015. The most important cyber risks for Dutch education and research were mapped out in this report. It also provides guidance on how institutions can protect themselves against these risks. A Cyber Threat Assessment has been published every year since.
SURF has been organising the OZON large-scale national cyber crisis exercise every two years since 2016, in order to practice what to do in the event of a cyber crisis and to check to what extent you are prepared as an institution. More than 50 institutions throughout the Netherlands participated in 2018. A smaller-scale exercise was carried out in 2017, under the name NOZON.
In 2015, SURF set up a platform for information security and privacy officers, called SCIPR. SCIPR works together with SCIRT, the platform where operational security experts discuss current security challenges. Where SCIPR deals with security policy and governance, SCIRT focuses on operational matters. Participation in both communities has grown significantly over the past 4 years. SCIRT and SCIPR launched the initiative for a SURF Security and Privacy Award in 2016. This award has since been awarded annually to an individual, initiative or idea that makes a substantial contribution to the collective level of security of Dutch education and research institutions.
SURFsara was awarded the ISO 27001 certification for information security in 2016. Customers of our services can be confident that research data and other confidential information that is stored and processed at SURFsara are in safe hands.
SURF drew up a model policy for responsible disclosure in 2015, which can be used by institutions. Through the legal framework of Cloud Services, SURF issued guidelines with which cloud providers to higher education must comply. From 2017 onwards, institutions have been supported in the implementation of the General Data Processing Regulation by means of, among others, the Model Processors' Agreement, a model policy for the processing of personal data, and the Model PIA.
eduVPN was developed and launched as a service in 2017, and makes non-trusted WiFi networks safe by setting up an encrypted connection. This allows students, teachers and researchers to make secure use of the Internet from anywhere, and gives them secure access to your institution's shielded systems - even if they are using an Internet connection from a train, a terrace or at home. The software is open source (Let's Connect), and won the Internet Innovation Award in 2018.
Users in the fields of education and research want to have secure access to services and content at all times through their own account. SURF worked continuously throughout 2015-2018 to create and improve a safe and reliable environment.
From 2015 to 2018, work continued on the further development of SURFconext. We introduced the SURFconext Authorisation Rules in 2016: as an institution, you can use them to grant certain groups access to services via SURFconext Dashboard, or to exclude them. We investigated how external authentication systems (such as Idensys, iDIN and eIDAS) can be linked to SURFconext, and this link has been realised in some cases.
SURFconext Strong Authentication was introduced as a part of SURFconext in 2015, and allows you to improve the security of online services through two-factor authentication. From 2017, SURFconext Strong Authentication could also be linked to services that are not affiliated with SURFconext. The name was changed to SURFsecureID in 2018.
We developed OpenConext, our open source software that we use for our SURFconext service. NRENs, collaborative organisations or other parties can use OpenConext to establish their own collaborative infrastructure. We provided various stakeholders with support in the use of this software.
The eduID concept was developed in 2018 in order to facilitate student mobility. Students are attending more and more courses at other institutions. Together with others, we investigated how this could be achieved more easily with 1 identity - the eduID project. As a follow-up, we will develop this concept further in the near future.
In recent years, efforts have been made to make the entire research process more accessible, and to simplify and facilitate cooperation and participation through policy and infrastructure. In doing this, we contributed to the Open Science Cloud, a European aim to make research data publicly available.
The Support4research project started in 2014, and continued until the end of 2018. Its main objective was to bring SURF's support more closely into line with the research carried out by educational and research institutions. A large network of research supporters has been established in recent years. We brought the advocates of different institutions into contact with each other, and thereby ensured greater cooperation, not only within institutions, but also among institutions. We facilitated the exchange of knowledge, established links between various stakeholders with the same role, and provided support for often complex research IT issues raised by researchers and the research support staff.
The National Coordination Point for Research into Data Management (LCRDM), a national network of experts in the field of research data management (RDM), was established in 2015. LCRDM establishes the link between the policy and the solution. Within LCDRM, experts work together to place RDM topics on the agenda that are too big for one institution to deal with, and that call for a joint national approach. To this end, LCRDM brings together research supporters, policy makers, IT professionals, directors from various research institutions and research sponsors. From 2015 to 2017, LCRDM facilitated five national working groups that worked on the development of five key aspects of RDM policy.
Knowledge Exchange is used to share knowledge (workshops, seminars) and, together with like-minded countries, to build up knowledge (reports, the participation of experts from SURF and experts from the institutions in expert groups) on current issues within open science, such as research support, the (financial) sustainability of open access services, the funding of data infrastructure, and the sustainability of research software.
Open Access in higher professional education
In collaboration with the Knowledge Infrastructure Department of the Netherlands Association of Higher Professional Education (HBO), work was carried out to successfully raise the awareness of and support for Open Access at universities of applied sciences. Through seminars, vlogs, awards, publications and research, etc., open access has been strongly promoted at a managerial, tactical and content-related level. The combination of these has also contributed to a new and major national project (in the making); the National Platform for Applied Research.
10 organisations, including VSNU, KNAW and NWO, launched the National Plan for Open Science at the beginning of 2017. SURF is one of the initiators. In order to monitor and stimulate progress, the participants have set up the National Platform for Open Science. In addition to substantive input, we also provide the secretariat.
We helped institutions to ensure that their education optimally meets the learning needs of the student. To this end, we carried out various projects and experiments, and developed services. We also challenged the market to deliver what institutions really want. By working together, educational institutions were able to innovate faster and more easily, and to deploy the new applications and technologies that are needed to offer flexible and personal education.
Educational Innovation Acceleration Plan with IT
The Association of Universities, the Association of Universities of Applied Sciences and SURF drew up an Acceleration Agenda for educational innovation in 2017. This builds on SURF's education innovation agenda, and is the forerunner of the Educational Innovation Acceleration Plan with IT, which was presented in 2018. In this four-year programme, run by the Association of Universities, the Association of Universities of Applied Sciences and SURF, 40 universities and universities of applied sciences are working together to identify the opportunities that digitization offers for higher education in the Netherlands. Institutions regard the achieved results and future plans of SURF as prerequisites for the success of the Acceleration Plan.
Microcredentialing and open badges
In its 'Open badges and microcredentialing' white paper, which was published in 2016, SURF was the first to identify the opportunities that open badges can offer Dutch education, for example as a tool for microcredentialing: cutting education into smaller units than diplomas. From mid-2017 onwards, we have been investigating which technology and standards are needed in order to be able to issue badges. At the beginning of 2017, we organised a seminar on the opportunities and challenges of open badges. In a proof of concept (2018), we examined what is needed in order to be able to create digital certificates, edubadges, and to grant them to students in Dutch higher education, and we launched a pilot project focusing on edubadges at the end of 2018. To this end, we have set up an infrastructure that makes use of the open badges standard. Within this infrastructure, thirteen institutions can experiment with the creation and publication of edubadges. The pilot runs until the summer of 2019.
Infrastructure for open educational resources
In 2017, through the Open and Online Education Incentive Scheme, the Minister of Education, Culture and Science made a subsidy available to teachers who share their material. We developed an infrastructure for sharing educational resources, made the SURFsharekit repository service suitable for sharing open educational resources (OER), and developed the search portal for finding and evaluating them. By means of step-by-step plans for drawing up a policy on OER or for the use of quality labels, we provided an incentive for a wide-ranging agenda for OERs in higher education.
Flexible learning environment
Based on how we thought a flexible digital learning environment might look, we developed a functional model for this kind of modular learning environment. In our demo environment, fourteen suppliers took up the challenge of showing that theory can become reality. Thanks to the broad discussion we initiated with regard to the learning environment, a single common language was created for this complex subject.
In the context of the incentive scheme of the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science for open and online education, 46 institutions gained experience with innovative online and blended education projects. SURF developed the online 'Flipping the Classroom' module based on the most important lessons learned from these projects. Digital educational resources are needed if education is offered online. For this reason, we also experimented with a subscription model for obtaining digital textbooks from publishers.
We helped institutions implement digital testing by offering them a maturity analysis and a policy toolkit, as well as a workbook to securely set up the entire testing chain. It will be easier to organise formative testing if lecturers from different institutions start working together on test banks. We investigated what was technically and organisationally necessary to set up joint databases, and translated this into a concrete workbook and training course. We have also inspired institutions to experiment with new forms of digital testing in education.
We developed an infrastructure to allow teachers to use data from different source systems in order to gain insight into study progress. We figured out how and under what conditions you can use data within the GDPR.
Flexible education requires a completely different way of organising education. We examined how educational development and educational logistics influence each other, and how you can achieve coherence between them. We made it clear which processes are relevant in organising flexible education, and developed a game and a reference model in order to stimulate discussion about this in institutions. We asked the providers of timetabling software to respond to a changing vision of timetabling in higher education, and mapped out the technical and organisational challenges associated with student mobility.
From 2016 onwards, we will annually award SURF Education Awards to those educational innovators who make a difference.
The new SURFspot website was launched in 2015. In addition to improvements in user-friendliness, visitors were also able to view the product range without having to log in. In the years that followed, SURFspot has continued to work on improving its online services. For example, delivery times were reduced and major improvements were made to customer service. Turnover and the number of orders placed grew every year. Thanks to the educational discount on software and hardware, students and employees of institutions in secondary vocational training (MBO), higher professional education (HBO) and university education (WO) have been able to save a lot of money over the past few years. In 2018, students saved €30.633,946.33 with the software licences they purchased from SURFspot.
The SURF cooperative
In 2015, SURF became a cooperative in order to give the institutions more say and to better meet their needs. From then on, the members became the owners of SURF. At the start of the cooperative on 28 January 2018, we had 67 members. There were 108 at the end of 2018. We welcomed our 100th member, ROC Noorderpoort, in 2016.
Erik Fledderus, SURF's new managing director, joined us in 2015, and we moved to a new office building in Hoog Catharijne in Utrecht. In 2017, SURF celebrated its 30th anniversary, and we celebrated this occasion with, among other things, the SURF Cooperative Day.
Coordinating SURF Contact (CSC)
The Coordinating SURF Contact, usually referred to as CSCs, were appointed in 2015 to coordinate information and communication with SURF within their institution. The CSCs are coordinated by sector. The cooperation with the CSCs was elaborated further in 2016. Structural consultations were planned with the account advisors and the board of SURF.
Parting with Vancis
Up to 2016, SURF was the owner of a private organisation called Vancis. To avoid the appearance of competing with the market, we sold Vancis in 2016.
Involvement of the membership
Following the formation of the cooperative in 2015, efforts to increase the involvement of the members were made in subsequent years. By changing the CSCs, for example, but also by changing the structure of the Members' Council, and by organising follow-up days and an administrative day-out. Together with our members, we started preparations for the 2019-2022 Strategic Plan in 2017. After an extensive period of analysis, including many interviews, we held a broad consultation round with the members in 2018. The final version was submitted to the members for decision halfway through 2018.
SURFmarket: SURF's IT purchasing organisation
In 2017, we worked hard to position SURFmarket as SURF's IT purchasing organisation. SURFmarket had the character of a brokerage organisation that concluded IT contracts for institutions. This has changed and, from 2017 onwards, IT contracts with suppliers will, in principle, be concluded through a tendering procedure.