The CONNECT Interview: Yousef Torman the Managing Director of ASREN

CONNECT is the magazine from the GÉANT community, providing an update on the networks, services and innovation activities that empower their research and education users.

The latest issue 27 2017 features an interview with Yousef Torman the Managing Director of the Arab States Research and Education Network HERE

Yousef Torman, You are a passionate advocate of R&E networking across the Arab world. What fuels this passion?

In 1989, when I started as Head of the Computer Center of Jordan University of Science and Technology, we had a few centralised VMS servers with some scientific applications on top. We had a local area network, but no internet. All user accounts had capped storage and CPU time. Students and researchers would ask for extra capacity for their computation and analysis, and I would take great satisfaction out of helping them. I was also approached by other universities which used to access our servers via modem dial-up, but most of the time they would just come to my office to connect as the dial-up service was simply too expensive.

Well, I wanted to enable, connect, provide access! This led me in 1992 to initiate a proposal to connect all public universities in Jordan. Five universities got on board and we connected them using the optical fibre network of the Royal Air Forces of Jordan. Mind you, that was probably one of the first NRENs in the world!

In 2003, the Jordanian Government launched the National Broadband Network to serve public institutions. I was put in charge of the Universities component and we established the Jordanian Universities Network (JUNet), a dedicated fibre backbone connecting 11 public universities and over 20 other sites, including community colleges, hospitals and research centers. Via JUNet I participated in various EU-funded projects, such as EUMEDCONNECT, EUMEDGRID, LinkSCEEM and EPIKH. This was instrumental for me in shaping the vision and strategy for JUNet to provide services to the research community and encourage our scientists to get involved in national and regional collaborations. And, most importantly, these projects provided a platform to meet other Arab NREN representatives and explore common ground. Now, with ASREN, we also have an organisational framework to pursue the development of R&E networking in the Arab world.

What is ASREN’s background and mission?

ASREN came about after several iterations between 2005 and 2011 to form a regional R&E network for the Arab region. Key contributions came from the EUMEDCONNECT project, which helped us incubate ASREN, and from His Excellency Dr. Talal Abu Ghazaleh, founder and leader of the TAG group and passionately interested in scientific and educational development in the Arab world.  With his backing the Arab States Research and Education Network (ASREN) was established under the umbrella of the League of Arab States. ASREN’s mission is to boost scientific research and cooperation in member countries across the Arab region through the provision of world-class e-infrastructures and services and to support Arab NRENs along the way.  ASREN is now an active regional partner for the North African component of the AfricaConnect2 project and for EUMEDCONNECT which continues to serve the Eastern Mediterranean countries, as well as participating in network service and science gateway initiatives across the region.

What are the main challenges and key achievements of developing R&E networking in the Arab region?

The Arab region has certainly had its share of challenges.  While we have seen increased capacities and some lowering of connectivity prices, market competition is still relatively weak and this has held back the development of a proper regional R&E network. National funding support for Arab NRENs was also set back following the Arab Spring, but things are steadily recovering and I am proud about the part ASREN is playing to bring this about. I am particularly pleased that, as part of EUMEDCONNECT, ASREN has been able to re-connect JUNet to GÉANT and the wider R&E community, via ASREN’s own connectivity and its PoP in London, and this includes serving the regional SESAME synchrotron facility which is based in Jordan.  Lebanon is also now connected and developing well, and Palestine is also getting interested again.

In AfricaConnect2, ASREN’s focus is on North Africa, but we are working closely with our African sister organisations WACREN and the UbuntuNet Alliance.  With the support of GÉANT and the EU, we act as a family to bring an African R&E network into life. The ASREN community benefits vastly, as resources and expertise can be shared and solutions to shared issues can be found.
To date we have Algeria and Egypt connected to GÉANT under AfricaConnect2. Seamless continuation of the project beyond 2018 is vital to re-connect also Morocco and Tunisia and to progress towards a sustainable network in the region and an enduring place on the global R&E map.

Despite the challenges ASREN has successfully established annual conferences for the regional R&E community, under the e-AGE name.  This year’s event will take place in Cairo on 3 and 4 December and will be the 6th edition – it certainly has proved a very successful focus for the very diverse yet talented R&E community. All members of the GÉANT community are warmly welcome to join us!​​