SWITCHlan – secure, stable and powerful

Work, research, teaching, studying – today, almost nothing is possible at Swiss universities without a stable and secure network. 30 years of building and development have made SWITCHlan one of Switzerland’s most powerful networks.

Text: Daniel Bertolo, published on 01.10.2019

SWITCHlan does much more than just provide internet access to all academics in Switzerland. SWITCHlan is breaking down barriers and facilitating cutting-edge research. We connect researchers in Switzerland with one another and with all other research networks around the globe. Each month, our network transfers around 20 petabytes (see box) of data. Thanks to eduroam, we ensure that university members are online all over the world. We are also enabling researchers to use our network in new ways to do far more than just transfer data.

From kilobits to terabits per second

It has been more than 30 years since the internet gained a foothold in Switzerland. It also brought with it the ability to network the Swiss education and research community. The history of SWITCHlan’s evolution can be divided into three eras: The leased line era when the state had a monopoly on telecommunications services. The first generation came with the changeover to an independent fibre-optic network. The current generation is characterised by its flexible, programmable optical infrastructure. This new generation of hardware has also allowed us to continue operating SWITCHlan with the same long-standing team of network engineers – even though the number of connections has nearly doubled in the last 10 years. The benefits of the current platform are discussed in the article «The key components for the network of the future.»

Critical infrastructure

Over time, the internet has become more and more important in every sphere of life. Today, it is among the most basic, essential pieces of infrastructure, not unlike electricity and water. And the outsourcing of important services to cloud providers is only adding to this dependency. The SWITCH foundation is aware of the major role it plays here, which is why it operates the SWITCHlan university and research network for Switzerland with maximum stability, performance and security. To continue meeting these growing requirements in the future, we are constantly investing in upgrades to our infrastructure. Incidentally, we have managed to double the data volume every two and a half years, which is equivalent to a tenfold increase every seven years. It has already been five years since our last major network upgrade from 10 to 100 gigabits per second. In two years, we expect that 100 gigabits per second will no longer be enough to meet the needs of the largest research organisations.

Researching directly on SWITCHlan

The articles «Shaping the Future of the Internet» and «Highly accurate frequency for research» discuss some of the new applications made possible by our research network. The first article lays out how researchers are testing out SWITCHlan to better protect internet users against malicious or unintentional routing errors. The second article illustrates how SWITCHlan is for the first time being used not to transport data, but highly accurate frequencies.

Governance in the hands of the customer

The universities and research organisations are members of the SWITCH Foundation Council, giving them direct control over the network. This means that the customers themselves are able to govern the network directly, ensuring that it will consistently be developed in the interests of the universities and research community while preserving the universities’ data sovereignty. After all, having end-to-end control over one’s own data offers an enormous competitive advantage for Switzerland as a hub for education and research.

About the author
Daniel   Bertolo

Daniel Bertolo

Daniel Bertolo studied Computer Science at the HSR in Rapperswil and joined SWITCH in 2007. He worked as a System Engineer on the Network Team and was responsible for the optical transport systems as well as SWITCHconnect. In March 2013, he became Team Leader of the Network Team.

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How big is 20 petabytes?

If one drop of water equals one bit, SWITCHlan would be transporting the equivalent of two times the volume of water in Lake Zurich each month.

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