Sankya Vahini

As I read in this morning’s Hindu that the National Knowledge Network is in place, my heart was filled with joy. I also recalled the vision of V S Arunachalam in advocating this idea long time ago. I attach a brief excerpt from my IIM Prsidential address of 1999

From the Hindu April 9, 2009
“Step towards knowledge society sans boundaries”
Priscilla Jebaraj
CHENNAI: President Pratibha Patil inaugurated the initial phase of the National Knowledge Network with the click of a button at the Rashtrapati Bhavan on Thursday.
About 2,000 km away on the IIT-Madras campus, students, scientists and professors simultaneously joined in the applause — along with their colleagues from 10 other locations across the country.
They were videoconferencing over India’s first 2.5 GBPS network — a connection capable of moving 2.5 billion bits of data per second. Already, 16 educational and research institutions have been connected to the network; another 41 are scheduled to join them soon.
At the inauguration, Principal Scientific Adviser R. Chidambaram said the plan was to eventually upgrade the Network’s high speed core to multiples of 10 GBPS. That final phase was in an advanced stage of planning and cost-estimation, he said. Institutions would be guaranteed an access speed of 100 MBPS. “The Network is, indeed, a revolutionary step towards creating a knowledge society without boundaries,” said the President.
To understand the revolutionary nature of the Network, consider the significance of the figures. If you are reading this report on the Internet, you are probably using a connection with a maximum speed of 2 MBPS, the highest speed offered to individual residential customers by BSNL. The software giants on Chennai’s IT Highway use a 20 MBPS connection. Till recently, IIT-M had the city’s fastest network, with a 34 MBPS speed.
By offering a connection whose speeds are measured in billions of bytes per second (GBPS) rather than millions (MBPS), the National Knowledge Network has leapfrogged current connections by several orders of magnitude.
Connected institutions are already bubbling with ideas on how to exploit such speeds that allow smooth real-time multimedia communication. Already, the new IITs are able to function effectively only because they have been using the Network to listen and interact in lectures taken by professors from their mentor IITs hundreds of kilometres away.
During the inauguration, IIT-M Director M.S. Ananth told first B.E student Apoorva from IIT-Hyderabad how he and his classmates could access the high performing computing resources available at their mentor institution in Chennai. “The NKN is going to transform teaching and research … especially considering the shortage of quality faculty,” said Devang Khakhar, Director of IIT-Bombay. “It is a great boon to the remote areas of the northeast,” said Gautam Barua, Director of IIT-Guwahati.
Beyond educational institutions, research scientists are exploring the possibilities as well. Zakir Thomas, who heads the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research’s Open Source Drug Discovery project, said the Network could meet his spiralling computational requirements. Researchers across the country working on a cure for tuberculosis can access biological databases, implement 3-D molecular modelling and share real-time visual data.
Scientists from the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre could now access the Large Hadron Collider computing grid in Geneva from their own desktops in Mumbai and participate in international thermonuclear modelling experiments.
Baldev Raj, head of the Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research at Kalpakkam, hopes that the NKN will let him harness expertise from across the country and the world to design the complex components of the next generation of fast reactors.
The only non-governmental institution at the inauguration provided a perspective of how the NKN could transform Indian healthcare. Sankara Nethralaya does not have an NKN connection yet, but chairman Lingam Gopal hoped that it could take telemedicine to the next level. The NKN could also help create a database of medical records, and advance evidence-based medicine, said S.S Badrinath, founder of Sankara Nethralaya.
An extract from
IIM PRESIDENTIAL ADDRESS November 14, 1999
S Ranganathan
PARADIGM SHIFTS IN METALLURGICAL RESEARCH AND EDUCATION
Let me now turn to education in general and metallurgical education in particular. It is clearly recognized that education holds the key to progress of any nation. At long last, the goal of total literacy for India seems attainable. In tune with this our Institute has expanded the examination committee to include education as well. A proposal to prepare textbooks by Indian authors is under way. Our Institute must also explore the possibility of internet-based training not only for fresh aspirants but also for others, as life long learning has become essential.
It is a matter of pride for us that P Rama Rao , Honorary Member of our Institute chaired the AICTE Committee on postgraduate education. His report on “Reshaping Postgraduate Education and Research in Engineering and Technology” has profound implications for our profession. I had drawn the attention of the Committee to the positive and adverse effects of developments in information technology. While IT has made changes, it also attracts our students away from metallurgy. Urgent remedial actions are called for.

I-Campus has just been unveiled by an alliance between Microsoft and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Is it too much to hope that similar alliances involving Infosys and IITs/IISC will be forged soon?

As a student of metallurgy I bought the ASM Metals Handbook in 1960. Today we are purchasing the entire set of 20 volumes in CD ROM form. Vinayak Dravid, under the TMS foundation grant has prepared a CDROM for Scanning Electron Microscopy. Several such efforts are under way. The Indian metallurgical community can make very valuable contributions by creating CDROMs in subjects of great interest to India. For our AMIIM candidates virtual laboratories become a route to learning.
While the new technology may appear as a distant dream, to an information parched country a bold vision in the name of Sankhya Vahini is under way. At a mind boggling speed of 2Gigabits per second this promises to interconnect the nation with a cutting edge high speed data network, thereby enabling enhanced educational opportunity, economic growth and competitiveness and global connectivity for all Indians. This project has been envisioned by V S Arunachalam, an Honorary Member of our Institute. University without walls, Universal Digital Library, Tele-medicine, Tele-agriculture and a host of other benefits move into the realms of reality. This extraordinary impact of IT is threatening to make a digital divide among nations. The world can be split into those who have information and those who do not have. However, the new technologies hold out hope. The world is undergoing the Negroponte Switch from being wired to being wireless. The latter is sweeping through developing nations such as India, and China. We must be determined to be part of this wireless revolution.

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One Response to Sankya Vahini

  1. Whilst it is good to know that India is making strides in tele-related activities, one should not loose sight of primary and to some extent secondary education in India. As for the former, “appalling” is an understatement and more so when one visits just the outskirts of a city where the domain of Indian villages start. The schools are in bad state, teachers may or may not come, and what we call literacy boils down to learning alphabets and numbers. The government ought to do something serious about it.

    Coming to the lighter side… I have been fascinated by interesting use of Hindi in India for describing technical material. “Sankhya Vahini” (lit. “bearer of numbers”) for high density GBPS network, “Chandrayaan” for lunar orbiter, “Surakhsha Kavach” for anti-collision device used in Konkan Railways, etc. In this vein, may I suggest the use of “Khopdi Kavach” for helmet?

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