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Kenyan collaboration highlights IU’s international networking expertise

Kenyan education network CEO travels halfway across the world to swap strategies with IU colleagues

When Meoli Kashorda traveled from Kenya to Indiana University recently, his main objective was to better understand the technical operations and sustainability of I-Light, the IU-run network that connects higher education institutions in the state.

As chief executive officer of Kenya’s Education Network, KENET, Kashorda was eager to learn new strategies to advance KENET's mission of transforming education in Kenya using information and communications technology and broadband internet. KENET has connected 175 campuses of higher education in 32 counties in Kenya. The campuses have a combined student enrollment of over 500,000, and the network serves both faculty and students.

During the course of his two-day visit, Kashorda first met with I-Light Director Marianne Chitwood. The two discussed the sustainability challenges of KENET and competition from commercial internet service providers, as well as limited funding from the Kenyan government. "I wanted to understand how I-Light operates and thrives and see if there are some things that apply to KENET as well," Kashorda said.

"I thoroughly enjoyed meeting with Meoli to talk about I-Light, its challenges and successes, and how it compares to the research and education network infrastructure in Africa," said Chitwood. "KENET is an amazing resource for the higher education community in Kenya, and I’m proud and humbled that Meoli traveled all this way to understand our education networks. I hope this is just the beginning of a long collaboration."

In addition to learning about I-Light, Kashorda met with staff from IU’s Global Research Network Operations Center and International Networks in the hopes of forming a network engineer exchange program between KENET and IU. His visit concluded with a tour of the IU Data Center.

Currently, IU’s International Networking group is working with KENET and the University of Oregon's Network Startup Resources Center to set up perfSONAR nodes in the KENET network. (PerfSONAR is a test and measurement infrastructure used by science networks to monitor network performance.) An IU engineer will be visiting KENET in September to train KENET engineers and help them configure the perfSONAR servers. 

"This is just the start of our collaboration with IU – it's very likely other engineers will be able to visit," Kashorda said. "Apart from the network, KENET also operates a data center, and it is good to see that it is possible to scale up a data center based at a university to a level comparable to the commercial data centers. That is very important for us in Kenya, where there aren't many commercial data centers, and they still provide services at high costs because of a lack of scale."

Kashorda said that although he acquired a lot of useful technical information, the personal connections he made in Indiana were the highlight of the trip.

"I’m very grateful for the friendships I’ve established with so many people at IU," he said. "I learned much more than I had expected – it was not only I-Light but also IU IT operations, including operating a large data center."