Having grown up in New Zealand, I am delighted that the country finally has a high-speed research and education network, the Kiwi Advanced Research and Education Network (KAREN). Officially launched on August 31, this network links all of the major research institutions via a 10 Gbit/sec backbone.
The creation of a decent research infrastructure for New Zealand has taken a while. It's always going to be a challenge linking a country in which just 4 million people are spread over a fairly large area. However, while New Zealand has long had a high penetration of Internet technologies, things have been made worse by a lack of investment in research over the past 20 years, and by policies that have encouraged competition rather than cooperation among research universities and laboratories. Fortunately, these policies seem to be changing.
I've been thinking about these things since 2004, when I visited New Zealand and gave a series of talks to people involved in planning research infrastructure. I quoted Woody Allen: "80% of success is showing up", and pointed out that while the world is shrinking rapidly, it is not doing so uniformly. I noted that in 2004, I could send 1 terabyte (1 trillion bytes) to Geneva from Chicago in 20 minutes, but it took me four hours to download 1 megabyte (1 million bytes) from Chicago to Wellington. This difference reflects what we might call the dirty underside of exponentials: if network speeds are doubling every nine months, then a mere 10 years lag in network deployment means you are 10,000x slower than the competition. And in a world where one's ability to compete depends on access to information and colleagues, that difference can be fatal. Thus it's exciting to see that New Zealand has caught up--at least for a while.
I also spoke during that visit of the limiting effect of what I termed "PC Science," i.e., science scaled to fit on one's personal computer. Such limited approaches constrain the questions asked and the answers obtained. They can also (I fear) limit one's ability to enlist the best students, who are looking for things that are exciting and cutting edge. Fortunately, once you have high-speed networks, it becomes far more feasible to link users with clusters, supercomputers, databases, and collections of PCs to provide access to powerful computational capabilities. Thus I am also pleased to see my alma mater, the University of Canterbury, acquire a powerful supercomputer.