Immo Noack, Team Leader Procurement
Immo, you joined SWITCH in 2012 to set up the Procurement service. What motivated you?
I built up the Neptun project at ETH Zurich, and it became clear to me how much could be saved through framework agreements. It just doesn’t make sense for universities to negotiate standard contracts individually.
Which contracts do you negotiate at SWITCH?
They’re all framework agreements for software licences that benefit all universities in Switzerland equally. Some examples would be the agreements with Microsoft and Adobe, as well as support contracts with open-source providers like Red Hat.
What challenges does this involve?
The difficulty lies in finding common ground between the universities’ various wishes and expectations and getting this across to the software providers. It all takes a huge amount of work to coordinate and involves a great deal of persuasion.
Do you have anything exciting in the pipeline at the moment?
At the moment, I’m coordinating several cloud offerings from various providers with a view to negotiating identical terms for universities all over Europe. This means that Switzerland, where everything is usually more expensive, will enjoy the same attractive pricing as the rest of Europe.
Felix Kugler, Network Engineer
You have been working at SWITCH since 1992. What exactly do you do?
I started as a postmaster dealing with e-mail. Back then, we were using the OSI X.400 standard, with such straightforward addresses as “S=kugler; O=switch; PRMD=switch; ADMD=arcom; C=ch”. I was responsible for the gateway that converted X.400 e-mails into the SMTP format that’s widely used today. I had one or two jobs after that before joining the Network team in about 1997, which was where I’d always wanted to be. Since 2000, I’ve been working on optical transmission systems and the necessary fibre-optic infrastructure within the team.
You played an important role in the most recent upgrade of the SWITCHlan network, the ALPSTEIN project. What are you most proud of?
ALPSTEIN is definitely one of the more rewarding projects. The new system is working well, we kept within the budget, and the first phase was completed on time. As you know, the scope of the project was then enlarged, and the timetable was extended to take account of this. I’m especially proud of the open, flexible and friendly collaboration between everyone involved: suppliers, installation technicians, clients hosting our hardware and my colleagues on the Network team. I hope that anyone who worked on the ALPSTEIN project has taken plenty of good memories away from it in spite of the many long working days.
In the space of 30 years, the speed of SWITCHlan has increased by a factor of 800,000 from 128 kilobits per second to 100 gigabits per second. How is our network expected to evolve in the coming years?
Optical technology is developing very quickly at the moment, but our needs are very well served for the time being. In the future, economic concerns are set to become even more important for us because we’re running a major fibre-optic infrastructure for relatively few clients. Unlike the price of electronics and optics, cable rental costs are only falling slowly, which is why we’re pressing ahead with new sharing concepts as a matter of priority. Another trend is short-termness, i.e. demand for new connections to be available quickly combined with a reluctance to sign long-term contracts. Our network thus has to become even more flexible as well as faster and more cost-effective in terms of adaptation and expansion.
Sebastian Sigloch, Innovation & Business Development
What is your role at SWITCH?
I’m a thought leader, trend scout and innovation driver all rolled into one. It’s my job to bring tomorrow’s questions to the foundation systematically and consistently so that SWITCH can prepare itself for the future.
What are you working on at the moment?
At the moment, I’m working on an innovation project aimed at evaluating a platform for sharing and distributing digital solutions within the academic community. We call it the Community Service Hub, or CSH for short. Swiss universities now use a bewildering range of digital services in their day-to-day work. They’re organised independently of each other, and their digital solutions are spread throughout the academic community. This is where the CSH concept comes in.
What will be special about the CSH?
What’s special about it is its unique organisation. SWITCH promotes cooperation between universities and solution providers. Both are represented on Guideline Boards that define requirements for the solutions offered and decide on the CSH’s governance. The CSH is thus at the centre of a national academic service network.
What are your goals for the CSH?
If we get the CSH’s governance organisation right, this will be an important milestone for the academic community. My hope is that, in addition to creating urgently needed economies of scale, the CSH will also play a key role in driving Swiss education and research forward in terms of the use and sharing of digital solutions.
Petra Kauer-Ott, Trust & Identity
Petra, you are working hard on the new SWITCH edu-ID service, which is to replace the trusty old SWITCHaai. What main changes does it bring?
The SWITCH edu-ID is a lifelong, user-centric identity. The infrastructure takes account of changes in the university landscape, enabling access to a wide range of services and opening the door to lifelong learning. High security and quality are absolutely essential. Important new features include self-registration, the possibility of providing access to private users, delegation of quality assurance, notification of changes, strong authentication and inclusion of non-web-based offerings.
What makes working on the SWITCH edu-ID so exciting?
First and foremost, it’s the dynamic environment and working together with so many organisations. The universities contribute lots of new ideas and play an active part in developing concepts. I enjoy the uncomplicated approach to cooperating across different organisations, the enthusiasm for interacting and the desire to innovate that many people show.
What is the biggest challenge?
We’re developing an infrastructure that has to meet existing needs but also be equipped to deal with the future. This opens up a lot of scope for us going forward. The universities have to be convinced that this is the right path for them before they give us the help we need. So far, only a few of them are able to take advantage of the new features. However, this is going to change, and we need to be ready for that.
How do you see the SWITCH edu-ID in ten years’ time?
All universities and many other organisations will be using it across a broad front. Hundreds of thousands of users will take it for granted as a means of accessing learning content and other services. There are already schoolchildren with SWITCH edu-IDs. Identities can be linked and verified quickly and easily, and organisations have seen their identity management workload reduce dramatically.
Frank Herberg, Team Leader Security Financial Services
You are Team Leader, Security – Financial Services. What does this entail?
SWITCH’s Computer Emergency Response Team, SWITCH-CERT, offers services for various groups of clients. For banks, we’ve traditionally focused on e-banking security. We keep track of the attack scenarios our clients are exposed to and subject the underlying malware to in-depth analysis. This allows us to develop suitable means of identification and countermeasures for our clients. As one of only two national CERTs, we also have an overview of the current situation in Switzerland, which naturally benefits our banking clients as well.
Why are the banks reliant on external help in this respect?
There are various reasons why the banks value our service. For one thing, attacks are becoming more and more professional, so averting them demands a high level of expertise. Our team of experts has an excellent contact network, which helps it to respond quickly to new developments. At the same time, we’ve been fostering regular dialogue between our clients based on trust for about a decade, and everyone benefits from this. Last but not least, the banks can call on the entire SWITCH-CERT response team, for example when they need to fend off phishing attacks quickly or have drive-by websites blocked.
What do you think makes your service unique?
Our work for the national research and education network, the registry and clients in the private sector gives rise to unrivalled synergies. Our monitoring of the current situation in Switzerland, for example, allows us to provide detailed information on specific threats. When it comes to blocking domain names, we have a process in place that’s unmatched anywhere in the world. We’ve been in the CERT business for more than 20 years, so we have good contacts around the globe and can coordinate our efforts when incidents occur.