The Educational Demands of Networking Development in Lithuania
Vytautas Reklaitis <email@example.com>
Jim Strom <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Lithuania realised the importance of networking in the process of conversion to a new market economy. Computer networking is fast becoming an essential part of academic, government and business practice. As the technology becomes established, it brings with it an urgent requirement to build up local technical support and design expertise that will fuel a professional workforce capable of supporting the rapid deployment of local and wide area network facilities. This paper considers the development of academic networking within Lithuania, and in particular, focuses on an educational initiative carried out by Kaunas University of Technology under EC TEMPUS funding.
A number of factors reflect the present situation of IT development in Lithuania. Despite the struggle for independence, the level of computer literacy in the country is quite high. Universities such as Kaunas University of Technology (KUT), Vilnius University and Vilnius Technical University supply graduates of computer science and applied mathematics as engineers and programmers. KUT is the main technical institution in Lithuania covering engineering degrees in various disciplines such as mechanics and machinery, electrical engineering, chemistry, radio electronics and computing. The University feeds into local enterprises and research or academic institutions, and about 80% of engineers engaged in the industry of Lithuania are graduates of KUT.
The computing facilities currently used by the universities together with other industrial and commercial enterprises are mainly PCs with recently a few Suns and Macs appearing. LAN technology is now starting to play an important strategic role in building IT resources within these organisations.
Outside of local resources, Lithuania is starting to build up its wide area communications facilities. The legacy of limited data rate links however, coupled with a general lack of UNIX-based experience, is affecting the achievement of a data communications infrastructure sufficient to support TCP/IP based network services on a national basis. Furthermore, from a financial viewpoint, there is a great lack of investment due to shortages in budgets, and in general the pace of development is very much controlled by the economic climate within the country. However, currently both commercial and government bodies are becoming very active in seeking wide area connectivity, particularly with links to Internet.
As networking technology becomes established, it brings with it an urgent requirement for local technical support and design expertise that will build up a professional workforce capable of supporting the development and deployment of local and wide area network facilities. As a result there is now a high demand for technical and software networking expertise for which specialised educational computing programmes need to be established. It is very important therefore to stimulate local human resources with the necessary skills to design, develop and manage networks, particularly with local networks within organisations, but also with wide area enterprise connectivity.
2 Academic Network Development
The present level of academic networking development has been achieved through support from the Nordic countries according to the BaltNet project, together with support from the EC PHARE programme. Furthermore there has been a considerable amount of infrastructure redevelopment within leading universities and research institutions with moves to develop network clusters and to provide wide area network access.
A number of pioneering network projects have been carried out by academic and research institutions resulting in the formation of LITNET (LIThuanian academic and research NETwork), which is integrated into the broader BaltNet programme. LITNET has been developed principally around the nodes of Kaunas and Vilnius to be the main national vehicle for Internet traffic. At the time of writing (March 1995), there is a single link to Internet via a 64Kbps satellite connection from Vilnius to Oslo. The utilisation is currently approaching 60%, and so consequently users experience delays and at times a loss of connection. However an alternative connection is planned to be established shortly which should alleviate the problem.
The Lithuanian academic network will rapidly grow and, through a natural progression of Internet service development, will lead to the establishment of local information services based on LITNET servers.
Many other academic institutions as well as secondary schools are eager to gain a connection. It is planned therefore to expand LITNET:
Furthermore there are several pioneering plans to develop distance education services at the level of secondary education, as well as university and continuing adult education, using LITNET to provide a backbone for multimedia telematics in an open and flexible learning initiative.
3 Educational Needs
For the purpose of educational development we distinguish two kinds of networking education:
We consider the primary need is for the professional development of graduates with the necessary skills to support local network facilities within national enterprises. However with the expansion of the national academic network comes an equally important requirement for user awareness and training in network use. A case in point is evident in the statistics of network traffic for LITNET which show that, despite the existence of local servers, the inward flow is substantially greater than the national level as a result of users extracting large amounts of data from external FTP sites. Users therefore need to be made aware of what is available nationally and encouraged to adopt procedural changes in how the network is used.
In terms of professional development within the country, it is importance that networking should to be strengthened in academic study programmes to take account of the demand for a local workforce. Suitable teaching modules covering a broad spectrum of networking areas should be integrated into the curricula together with an expansion of computing facilities based on local internets.
3.1 Educational Development at KUT
KUT has participated in an EC TEMPUS Joint European Project (JEP 4840), set up in 1992 with a three year programme to develop new curricula for the teaching of computer networking in Lithuania.
The project, based in the Faculty of Informatics, enabled KUT to achieve a progressive development of resources. A totally new Computer Network Teaching Laboratory (CNTL) was created to support new teaching modules, which would enable students to develop a range of networking skills within existing undergraduate and postgraduate computing schemes.
Prior to this initiative, the provision of computing equipment had been very limited; a factor that had severely restricted student access to computers for learning purposes. The TEMPUS JEP enabled a mobility programme to be started for University staff retraining and up-dating in computer networking. The JEP also added support to the acceptance of courses at a European level by developing a mutual recognition between courses in Lithuania and in EU Member States.
The project set out with specific resource objectives:
A second TEMPUS JEP has also been started within the Faculty of Informatics with a focus on the academic development of Software Engineering. The networking facilities being developed within this second programme are intended to be integrated with those of the CNTL to provide a bigger overall teaching resource within the Faculty.
Figure 1. CNTL - Logical Structure
3.2 CNTL Facilities
The CNTL was designed as an isolated (in the sense of traffic) network cluster which complemented the way in which general networking facilities were being developed at KUT. Whilst the cluster is capable of supporting a general set of network services, it has been specifically designed to provide a network-teaching environment which can be easily adapted for specific practical exercises. Thus the facilities can support a number of network-teaching activities ranging from workgroup peer-to-peer network design through to distributed systems and network management.
As can be seen in Figure 1, the cluster consists of both PC-based and Unix-based facilities interconnected through a managed 4-port router. The router allows the PC and Unix segments to be used in complete isolation of one another, but also provides a focus for practical investigations into routing configuration and network management. The router interconnects with other computng facilities within the University, and in particular, provides access to LITNET and Internet.
The PC segment supports a number of Windows-based 486 PCs together with a Netware file server running over a 10base2 Ethernet. The machines are used for developing the student experience of installation and configuration of PC workgroup networks as well as providing experience of DOS- and Windows-based network programming. Groups of machines can be easily isolated into physically separate Ethernet networks allowing parallel exercises to be undertaken with complete protection against interference between groups.
The UNIX segment is based on a small number of microsparc workstations together with two file servers running over a 10baseT Ethernet. The current (1995) development plans include the expansion of this segment by providing more workstations and adding a powerful server. The main purpose of this segment is to support Unix network programming, and to provide students with an environment in which to develop and run advanced client-server applications in support of distributed systems curricula.
Both PC and Unix facilities will provide access to Internet and allow TCP/IP applications to be developed and configured across different platforms. A key educational element will be the ability to set up locally-provided servers that will emulate Internet information services. Thus students will gain experience of configuration and management of information services within a controlled environment without direct dependence on external links.
Furthermore, with SNMP-manageable network components installed within the cluster, network management software can be used to build up expertise in solving technical network management problems and to support curriculum development at an advanced network management level.
The advantages of the CNTL from an educational point of view are:
4 Curriculum Development
The TEMPUS project was primarily aimed at a curriculum development for students of the Informatics Faculty seeking a Computer Science degree. The study programme provides them with a basic level of knowledge and practical skills sufficient to design and maintain data network infrastructures, and later to incorporate new emerging networking technologies.
To facilitate this in a flexible manner and also to support a professional development so important for a rapidly evolving network infrastructure in Lithuania, the curriculum has been structured to represent an embodiment of two main study themes:
Each of these themes would be progressed through three levels. Students would be able to intermix modules from each level according to their study goals:
Each level provides two modules that address the themes of technical and software development as shown in Table 1 below.
Level 1 provides a grounding for all modes of study involving networks, including students participating in other Faculty programmes. The curriculum here covers a wide range of fundamental issues such as communication and data transmission principles, network standards and protocols, LAN and WAN network technologies and Internet services including resource discovery tools.
At Level 2, students have an opportunity to focus on one of the two study themes. A module is provided covering Network Design, Installation and Configuration that is aimed at students with a requirement to gain specific skills in planning, designing and trouble-shooting local and site network installations. A second module covering Network Programming is aimed at developing programming skills for client-server and peer-to-peer interprocess communication applications.
Level 3 builds upon these practical skills and takes students through to advanced studies within
Level Technological Development Software Development 1 Data Communications Computer Networks 2 Design, Installation and Network Programming Configuration 3 Network Management Distributed Systems
Table 1. Teaching Modules
the two themes. Thus students following a technological development would study Network Management addressing configuration, performance, fault and importantly, security management of both local and enterprise internetworks. Studies within the software theme would cover Distributed Systems involving interprocess communication principles, distributed system software and resource allocation, interoperability issues and advanced client-server programming.
As LITNET expands, KUT is becoming a key centre for networking education in Lithuania not only for academic studies but also as a centre for training, consultancy and support services. Together with the advanced internetworked computing facilities, there will be a distinctive set of courses that deliver training in networking technology providing the expertise and experience to build networks, as well as broad-based awareness programmes for those seeking a general education in networking.
The resources developed under the TEMPUS initiative will serve as a base for local distribution of network services. The concept and technology of internetworking are expected to serve as an educational innovation within a framework for collaboration and co-ordination of a wide range of future efforts in research and educational exchange programmes.
Under a new TEMPUS proposal for distance education, KUT is planning to use the CNTL facilities and to develop new resources in the area of multimedia telematics for the training and continuing adult education of social workers within Lithuania.
Both authors have been closely involved in the development of networking resources and the trialling of teaching material for this TEMPUS project.
Dr Vytautas Reklaitis is an Associate Professor in the Software Department at Kaunas University of Technology, Lithuania. He graduated from KUT and has spent several years in teaching comparative studies of computer languages and programming, participating in a number of projects for CBL and CAD. He is responsible for the initiative and the drive behind computer networking teaching at KUT. He is currently the head of the CNTL and the TEMPUS project co-ordinator at KUT.
Jim Strom is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Computing at Manchester Metropolitan University, UK. He conducts courses on communication networks and distributed systems. Since 1993 he has been working as the Director of the Telematics Research and Applications Centre (TRAC) with a focus on EDI for SMEs and distributed multimedia over ISDN. In particular he has been involved in the planning and technical requirements analysis for a proposed high performance multi-service telecommunications infrastructure supporting the Greater Manchester Education Community. He has a background in computer engineering and LAN technology transfer.