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Klaas Wierenga: "When infrastructure is a problem, Trust and Identity can be what brings value to the institutions"

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He is the "father" of eduroam, plays important roles in GEÁNT and is an expert in Trust and Identity, a topic he will share with the Latin American ICT community between September 2 and 4, in Cancun, Mexico, during TICAL2019 and the 3rd Latin American Meeting of e-Science. We are talking about the dutchman Klaas Wierenga, our interviewee today. With good humor, Wierenga tells a little about the history of his famous development, comments on the plans for TICAL and reflects on how Europe and Latin America can collaborate even more efficiently.

You are known worldwide for being "the mind behind eduroam", but who is the "day-to-day Klaas" in GEÁNT, beyond working with the academic roaming tool?

When I came back to R&E community 2,5 years ago (after 9 years at Cisco)  I joined the executive team of GEÁNT as Chief Community Support Officer. My main responsibilities were managing the Project Development Officers and to streamline and build out GEÁNT Trust&Identity Programme (eduroam, eduGAIN etc.). After some internal changes I now also have the partner relations (relations with European NRENs) and research engagement (relations with scientific communities) in my portfolio.

In any case, we have to talk about this great development. How did you come up with the idea of eduroam? How was the process since the idea until its first implementation?

Well, I guess this is a story of being at the right time in the right place and having the luck of working with a talented, closely-knitted and dedicated community.

It all started with a small idea. At SURFnet, where I was working at the time, we had a RADIUS infrastructure for our dial-up Internet service and we were trialing 802.1X in student dormitories. It came to me that we could combine both technologies to support guest access for WiFi. There was a student, Paul Dekkers (now chair of the Global eduroam Governance Committee),  that was looking for a graduation project, so I pitched my idea and had him doing a proof of concept implementation.  When Twente University of Technology then came to me to ask if I had any ideas for their upcoming wireless campus procurement I suggested what is now called eduroam. About that time there was also this girl coming to work for TERENA, Licia Florio (we have been married for 12 years now) who was asked to organise a workshop on mobility with me, where Tim Chown of the University of Southampton liked the idea and so the first international roaming happened. At that point the initiative started to gain momentum, Finland, Portugal, Germany, Norway all became involved and started their own deployment, and before we knew it eduroam became a buzz. The GEÁNT project then picked up on eduroam and turned it into a proper service. Meanwhile also in other parts of the world eduroam started to happen. In Latin-America Leandro Guimaraes, Antonio Carlos Nunes, Alejandro Lara Molina and others did great work with support from Jose-Manuel Macias from RedIRIS in Spain.

When you walk around the world and the connection to eduroam works in a place where you did not know it was implemented, what do you feel?

I still remember the first time I had this happen. I was walking through the center of Paris and all of a sudden e-mails were coming in on my phone. I was afraid that i had by accident left GSM roaming on on my phone and would get an expensive billl, but it turned out that I was next to a building of Sorbonne University. I felt unbelievably proud. And when I noticed that there was eduroam in the Smithsonian Musea, at Stockholm or Geneva Airport, I also was pleasantly shocked. The funniest thing that happened in that respect is when a colleague at Cisco that didn't know me and that overheard me talking about WiFi roaming told me to look at this thing that the academic community had developed called eduroam.

You are a "multitasker", involved in many areas within GEÁNT. What will be the focus of your participation in TICAL2019?

Well, I have to admit that the number one reason of wanting to be at TICAL is to meet with all my friends from all over Latin-America, some of them whom I have not seen for a long time. Knowing that my colleagues Tom Fryer and Enzo Capone are more than capable of dealing with international collaboration and networking issues, I will probably focus on the topic areas closest to my heart: Trust & Identity, also because I believe that that is the area where the focus in Latin-America increasingly needs to be. With Bella, connectivity is getting a boost, and while I do realise that that doesn't immediately permeate into the campuses, I do really think that the NRENs in the region should show value 'above the net'. Oh, and of course I aim to improve my Spanish that got destroyed by speaking Italian too much in the past 12 years, having married an Italian.

Among your roles in GEÁNT is the work in the area of "Trust and Identity", a great challenge for Latin America, given that some of our countries do not have academic networks or adequate infrastructure. What challenges did you find in Europe in this area and how can Latin America learn from this experience?

The people that created the NRENs in Europe, and I believe also in Latin-America, are mostly networking people. That of course makes perfect sense, since that is where the challenges were in Europe, and to a large extent extent still are in Latin-America. That coupled with the fact that T&I is much less cost intensive, makes that managers in NRENs and universities often pay less attention to what is happening in T&I.

For identity federations we were suffering from the fact that every country invented the wheel on their own, and harmonising across all countries into what is now eduGAIN was hard. For eduroam the situation was very different, everybody just followed the example of what Europe was doing, leading to a technical much more homogeneous environment.What Latin-America can learn from these experiences is that NOW is the time to act. There are some great examples in Latin-America, make sure that the community as a whole benefit from their experience. I believe that in those countries with no established NREN, RedCLARA can play an important role in ensuring that also in those countries the R&E community is served well. You also have to remember that for federated identity not a lot is needed in terms of networking capacity or computing resources, so especially when infrastructure is a problem, T&I can be what brings value to the institutions.

What is necessary for more research communities to be created between Europe and Latin America and how can the BELLA project benefit the two communities in this regard?

I don't think any more communities need to be created, I believe they already exist! What is needed is to support those communities to becomemore succesful is the right support, we have seen that activities like "Enlighten your research", for example, can help tremendously.