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Exploring the Future of European NREN Services – Insights from Athens

The picturesque city of Athens, Greece, played host to an event that brought together over 30 European NREN leaders and experts to delve into the future of digital transformation and innovation, the future of NREN services, and the growing role of Artificial Intelligence (AI).

Themis Zamani, Head of Implementation Unit, European Infrastructures and Projects Directorate at GRNET, provided insights into GRNET’s European-oriented service portfolio and its pivotal role in the digital transformation landscape in Greece. Panos Louridas, Director of R&D at GRNET, emphasised the increasing importance of digital transformation and GRNET’s enhanced role in this context.

The first day continued with a round table discussion on “The Next Big Thing”, where participants explored the next significant challenges and opportunities in the NREN landscape. Questions revolved around identifying the community’s real needs and understanding the changing dynamics.

Martin Bech from the Danish NREN DeiC asked the poignant question, “Where are we unique in serving our users?”. The forum discussed the services set to dominate the NREN landscape in the next decade. SURF broached the challenge of utilising AI effectively and emphasised risk mitigation at the legal level. At the same time, NORDUnet discussed the holistic approach to digital transformation – viewing it as community building and not merely a service.

JISC elaborated on the uncertainties surrounding funding and the heightened competition among universities. They highlighted the pivotal role NRENs can play in flexible, international education delivery. Harri Kuusisto from the Finnish NREN CSC/Funet, Radovan Igliar from Cesnet, and representatives from Belnet also contributed; discussing security, quantum technology, the cloud, and the looming HR challenges around both recruitment and retention. Tryfon Chiotis, Head of Project Office at GÉANT, introduced the latest developments in the GÉANT project’s service portfolio.

Moving to the topic of ‘What the Users Need’, we heard from the most recent joiners to our community – Fjolla Restellica (KREN) and Arjan Xhelaj (RASH) shared their experiences and insights into what their organisations have achieved and what’s next on the horizon. Harold Teunissen from SURF and Krzysztof Kurowski from PSNC then delved into what’s next in NREN service portfolios, highlighting the factors driving these changes.

The first day concluded with a sightseeing tour of Athens from GRNET colleagues and a working dinner where the conversations on ‘The Next Big Thing’ continued.

The second day of the event was dedicated to exploring the role of AI in NREN service portfolios and the profound impact it can have on the future of NRENs. Prof. Stefanos Kolllias, Chairman of GRNET, discussed the latest trends in AI and its potential implications for GRNET’s overall strategy and service portfolio. A long open discussion followed, exploring the role of AI in service provision in Greece and a barrage of questions around how AI may benefit or impact NREN service portfolios. The length of the discussion reflected the significant interest from all the participants on this topic.

A round table discussion followed, and participants shared their views on what might happen in the future to NREN service portfolios, exploring the risks and opportunities that lie ahead. A number of NRENs coalesced on the increasing significance of security in the current digital landscape and the criticality of a security operations centre. Michel Wets from SURF presented the upcoming cloud tender to replace the 2020 OCRE tender.

As discussions wrapped up and the participants looked ahead, the message was clear: the journey of NRENs is not just about technology or services; it’s about people, communities, and building a connected, digital future.

The meeting concluded with potential agenda items for future meetings, including compliance, security, and EduID. Next time, SIG-MSP will meet online early in 2024.

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