AAA – it's all in the name

The AAA/SWITCH innovation and cooperation project came to an end a year ago. What conclusions can we draw from it today?

Published on 24.04.2014

AAA/SWITCH was a project of the Swiss University Conference running from 2008 to 2013. Its main aims were cooperation and innovation for sustainable infrastructure services.

AAA/SWITCH attracted a great deal of interest from Switzerland's universities, with 116 projects approved since it began in April 2008. The table below shows the number of projects in each of the following four domains:


 Domain  Number of projects  
AAA  17 
E-Learning  68 
Grid  26 
Total 116

One year on from the end of the project, the question arises as to just how sustainable the project was, how much innovation came out of it and whether there was genuine cooperation. Here are the findings:

Cooperation: Since AAA/SWITCH served as a framework programme for individual infrastructure projects, it is difficult to make any conclusive statements regarding cooperation within the project as a whole. Nevertheless, the following details show that AAA/SWITCH played a key role in promoting both innovation and cooperation between the individual universities and types of university:

  • All of the cantonal universities, all of the universities of applied sciences and the Federal Institutes of Technology in Zurich and Lausanne took part in projects.
  • A total of 116 projects were carried out.
  • Roughly half of these were led by a university. The results are available to all universities. Example:
  • About a quarter of the projects were led by two universities.
  • The remaining quarter were led by three or more universities. In many of these projects, cantonal universities, universities of applied sciences and institutions that are part of the Federal Institutes of Technology worked together.


Innovation and sustainability: The 116 projects differed significantly in terms of scope, character and progress. By way of example, we outline one project in each of the four domains below and explain how the results are being used today.

How did things pan out after AAA/SWITCH?

Nine months before the end of the project, the CRUS asked SWITCH to provide a report on the sustainability of AAA/SWITCH. SWITCH was able to put forward appropriate measures for 2013 in the report. SWITCH thus submitted two project proposals, drafted in conjunction with the universities, together with this report:

  • Learning Infrastructure, aimed at tying up various loose ends regarding e-learning issues arising from AAA/SWITCH projects as well as addressing new issues, particularly concerning user-centric learning.
  • Swiss Academic Compute Cloud, a continuation and targeted expansion of the Swiss Multi-Science Computing Grid project intended to develop the grid-based infrastructure further in the cloud direction and continue the successful cooperation with scientists who depend on applications that demand a lot of computing power.

Both of these projects are to complete their work at the end of April 2014. This will conclude the follow-up work for AAA/SWITCH under the CRUS P-2 programme.

In Summer 2012, SWITCH submitted the final report for the federal authorities, which also summarised the cooperation project’s final expenditure: the AAA/SWITCH projects used up total funding of CHF 33.7 million, of which CHF 15.8 million came from grants and CHF 18.0 million from the universities.

SWITCH finally celebrated the completion of more than five years of project work on a beautifully sunny day in June 2013 on St Peter’s Island in Lake Biel.

Project examples from all domains




A4Mesh: Wireless mesh network for environmental research: UNIBE.6, UNIBE.10,

The A4Mesh project, led by the Universities of Bern and Neuchâtel, developed and integrated authentication, authorisation, auditing and accounting on a wireless mesh network infrastructure. Nodes on networks of this type are of interest, for example, for environmental sciences, since they enable network access to measuring stations in hard-to-reach places. The project constructed test installations on both universities’ campuses as well as measuring stations for hydrological studies in Crans Montana. Measuring stations in the Emme Valley were also put into operation. These made it possible to study how pumping out drinking water affects the water table. The data were additionally analysed and compared against model simulations. This was in fact done using the infrastructure of the Swiss Academic Compute Cloud project, which followed on from the AAA project Swiss Multi-Science Computing Grid – an excellent example of how the AAA/SWITCH project helped to bring IT specialists and scientists together.


E-Learning Projekt UNIBAS.4, UNIBAS.5, is a web-based application that allows people attending an event to take part in live votes using web-enabled devices. It is impressively easy to use. Lecturers can put together a catalogue of questions that they want to reveal to their audience one at a time during a lecture. The responses can be displayed in the lecture theatre immediately after the vote.

The project’s success speaks for itself. Although it was developed by one university working on its own, six cantonal universities and three universities of applied sciences used it in the 2013 winter semester – proof positive that AAA/SWITCH really did bring benefits in terms of cooperation and sustainability.




Swiss Multi-Science Computing Grid (SMSCG) UZH.2, UZH.8, UZH.10, UZH.14,

The Swiss Multi-Science Computing Grid project comprised several phases. Led by the University of Zurich, members of as many as nine institutions worked to construct a grid infrastructure.

One of the principal success factors in this project was the active involvement of scientific users right from the start. The grid infrastructure was used for such tasks as simulating snow densities and avalanches, calculating databases for natural selection in biology and analysing particle physics data, and it also supported other scientific applications, for example as part of the A4Mesh project . Those involved paid special attention to interoperability with other grid projects and infrastructures – both in Switzerland and internationally.

The project's infrastructure ultimately developed in the direction of cloud computing, a topic that has attracted a great deal of interest from the universities over the past two years and is being pursued by SUC cooperation project P-2 (Scientific information). Active cooperation with scientific users is being continued and enhanced under that project. To this end, the project can call on the assistance of the newly created E-Science Teams at some universities, certain members of which were involved in AAA/SWITCH grid projects.


Virtual Organisations


B-Fabric is a platform developed and operated by the University of Zurich and ETH Zurich Functional Genomics Centre (FGCZ). It covers the entire lifecycle of life science projects from their initiation and approval to the production, annotation, processing and analysis and publication of research data and finally sign-off and archiving. The primary aim of the AAA/SWITCH project was to expand this tried-and-tested platform and make it available to other scientists. It is currently being used by more than 1,500 projects and over 3,000 scientists, and the usage figures are growing steadily. After 189 new projects in 2011, 239 were started in 2012 and 310 in 2013. This shows that an integrated project and data management system such as B-Fabric is essential for modern core facilities such as the FGCZ to ensure that projects and their data can be managed efficiently. The project won the Pistoia Alliance competition for data management systems in the field of life sciences in 2012.

Christoph Witzig

Christoph Witzig has worked at SWITCH since 2005 and is currently Head of Central ICT Providers. After studying particle physics at the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, he gained his doctorate at CERN in Geneva and held a number of positions, some in the US. He was Project Manager of AAA/SWITCH.

What was AAA/SWITCH?

The innovation and cooperation project AAA/SWITCH – e-Infrastructure for e-Science supported cooperation projects at and between Switzerland's universities and Federal Institutes of Technology in the funding periods 2008-2011/2012. Its aim was to create and enhance e-infrastructure components and services for the tertiary education sector in four domains:

  • AAA: further development of AAI in the areas of accounting, auditing, assurance levels and strong authentication
  • E-Learning: support for e-learning activities at Swiss universities as a follow-up to the SUC project Swiss Virtual Campus
  • Grid Middleware: construction and operation of a grid infrastructure at Swiss universities to support cross-institutional scientific computing
  • Support for virtual organisations, i.e. projects and working groups involving people from several institutions

University members took part in stand-alone cooperation projects in each of these four domains.

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