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Connected thinking

Professor John Raine says thanks to KAREN, our geographical isolation is no longer a barrier to research and innovation.
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Photograph by Tony Nyberg

Professor John Raine says thanks to KAREN, our geographical isolation is no longer a barrier to research and innovation.

Many of history’s most significant discoveries may have been conceived by great minds working in isolation, but collaboration is seen as the best way to achieve results in the 21st century. Today, commercial applications are the ultimate goal of much of the research carried out around the world.

Professor John Raine, pro vice-chancellor (innovation and enterprise) at AUT University, has had an ongoing interest in innovation and the commercialisation of research. He co-founded Christchurch company WhisperTech with Dr Donald Clucas, the Canterbury Innovation Incubator and The Human Interface Technology Laboratory New Zealand (HIT Lab NZ). He currently oversees AUT’s Business Innovation Centre and AUT Enterprises.

For the past year, Raine has been chair of the board of REANNZ (Research and Education Advanced Network New Zealand). The Crown company manages KAREN (Kiwi Advanced Research and Education Network), the superfast, unrestricted broadband network that links education, research and innovation organisations around world. Nearly a quarter of a million students, researchers and educators at over 90 New Zealand tertiary institutions, schools and government agencies have access to KAREN, which belongs to an international mesh of research and education networks with 200 million advanced network users worldwide.

REANNZ has secured a new contract with FX Networks, which will continue to allow KAREN to offer data-transfer speeds of 10Gb/s within New Zealand—that’s 2,500 times faster than the standard residential broadband connection—and 1Gb/s internationally through Telstra International. Importantly, the FX deal paves the way for building a custom network that will scale to many hundreds of gigabits, and even terabits.

“We see KAREN as essential infrastructure in the same way motorway systems interconnect cities and industries,” says Raine. “If New Zealand wants to be part of a first-world research community, it’s essential it has this advanced broadband network connecting its researchers inside New Zealand and to partners overseas.”

KAREN also facilitates activity, says Raine. For example, the Ministry of Research, Science and Technology is currently looking at large research infrastructure and how, as a small country with limited resources, we can spend money more efficiently. “With high-performance computing, for example, you’d look at locating the capability in one or two nodes—such as the Blue Fern computer at the University of Canterbury—and people would use KAREN to connect to it and use this very powerful computing capability.”

How exactly does KAREN help research and innovation in New Zealand? It enables very high-speed data transmission and multiparty, high-quality videoconferencing, with numerous applications. Real-time experimental activities at different sites, such as those carried out for the Square Kilometre Array project, where AUT’s Professor Sergei Gulyaev is playing a leading role, are only possible thanks to KAREN. It helps with disease diagnosis such as allowing international collaboration on Auckland University’s Physiome Project, and it’s even allowing local experts to predict the likely magnitude of a tsunami hitting our shores.

“It’s only by doing excellent research at the blueskies level that we can get the best research out for commercialisation,” says Raine. “Internationally, the greatest breakthroughs commercially tend to come from fundamental discoveries.”

Having worked as both an engineer in industry and as an academic, Raine believes that New Zealand still has to build highly productive connections between science and engineering in a way that fosters both high-quality research outputs and research commercialisation.

“There’s still a lot of building of those linkages to help many of our smaller industries engage more effectively with the research community and enable us to kickstart the high-tech side of the economy.

“KAREN is an excellent enabler of high-speed research and collaboration. And it’s collaboration that’s been shown to enhance the ability to produce results.”