Three gateways to the world

International networking is a must for universities these days. SWITCH offers three forms of assistance here.

Text: Christoph Witzig, published on 21.08.2014

In the beginning, there was the network. SWITCH was formed to connect Switzerland's universities with each other and with the rest of the world, but it started to grow beyond this remit a long time ago. Since Switzerland's historic link-up to the world in 1990, the foundation has created two further gateways to connect Swiss universities internationally that transcend the limits of bandwidth and Internet connectivity. The first of these consists of international services over and above the network, the second partnerships with institutions in other countries – a "network" in the non-technological sense.

Even though the physical network has been in place for many years, the Internet node at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva is still of vital importance. It is from here that SWITCH connects the Swiss universities with the scientific and academic communities throughout Europe. Together with other national research and education networks (NRENs), SWITCH set up DANTE to operate a high-speed pan-European network for research and education and has successively expanded it over the years. SWITCH is still a shareholder in DANTE and has a seat on the organisation’s Board of Directors. The pan-European network itself, known as GÉANT, is not just about ensuring maximum bandwidth at all times. It is also focused on bridging the digital divide both within Europe and relative to the rest of the world. This is not only important for the research community. More and more students spend time abroad as part of their studies. In addition, an increasing number of universities are entering into partnerships with universities in other regions, for example in India, the Middle East and the Far East. These are typically connected to the home university in Switzerland via GÉANT.

This is where SWITCH offers seamless service continuity: university members can simply open up their laptop at almost 10,000 locations in more than 60 countries around the world and be automatically connected to the Internet for free. This works thanks to eduroam, a service the Swiss universities participate in through SWITCH.


Having an Internet connection at all times, wherever you are, is not the only benefit SWITCH offers. This connection must be secure, since cybercrime has now become a lucrative industry in its own right. With this in mind, SWITCH places its Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT) at the disposal of the universities as part of their network access deal. SWITCH-CERT is an example of a service provided over the network, the second gateway to the world at large. With cybercrime being an international business, SWITCH-CERT is also in contact with sister organisations in both academic and commercial circles worldwide. It exchanges information with them on a daily basis regarding threats emanating from cyberspace and plays an active role in organisations such as the European Agency for Network and Information Security (ENISA).

SWITCHaai for the international level

Every connection to the academic network needs to be secure, but it should also be as easy to use as possible. SWITCH has solved this apparent contradiction by developing the authentication and authorisation infrastructure SWITCHaai for Switzerland and is continuing to build on it at the international level. This requires not only technical know-how but also agreement on international guidelines and standards. As part of the EU project GÉANT, SWITCH has taken the lead in terms of introducing interoperability between national authentication and authorisation infrastructures through the Education Global Authentication Infrastructure (eduGAIN). It coordinates the work of around 50 project participants from 16 partner organisations. Some 24 countries are involved in eduGAIN at present, with eight more in the process of signing up.

Partnerships are the third gateway via which SWITCH promotes international networking for research and education in Switzerland. Besides its involvement in DANTE, SWITCH is also a member of the Trans-European Research and Education Networking Association (TERENA), which is set to join forces with DANTE in order to take on an enhanced role within Europe. In choosing Shibboleth as the basis for SWITCHaai, SWITCH has additionally forged a relationship with Internet2, the sister organisation of SWITCH in the United States of America. SWITCH together with Internet2 and the British NREN JANET created last year the Shibboleth Consortium. It's purpose is to ensure the sustainable support and continued development of Shibboleth. This should help to protect the investments Swiss universities have made in SWITCHaai.

To sum up: SWITCH's three gateways to the world provide the means for Swiss universities to assume leading positions in teaching and research.

This article appeared in the SWITCH Journal October 2014
About the author
Christoph   Witzig

Christoph Witzig

Christoph Witzig has worked at SWITCH since 2005 and is currently Head of Infrastructure & Identity Services. 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.

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