A NEW KIND OF INFRASTRUCTURE

Saudi Arabia 2020 | DIGITAL ECONOMY | INTERVIEW

Maeen is working hard to convince leading telecoms players to join it in its quest to transform the Kingdom.

Ibrahim bin Salem Al-Shadokhi
BIOGRAPHY
Ibrahim bin Salem Al-Shadokhi is the Director General of Saudi Research and Innovation Network (Maeen), a division of King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST). Since graduating as a computer engineer from KSU, he has had more than 19 years of experience in networking, cybersecurity, business administration, and strategic planning. As a Saudi-born engineer and entrepreneur, he played a major role in establishing, managing, and operating the internet sector when it was first introduced by ISU/KACST, the main regulator. He also played a leading role in driving several national initiatives in the IT sector, including the Maeen Network and the Saudi Arabian Internet Exchange. He is also a member of the regional and global NREN community.

How did Maeen come to be founded, and what role does it play within the digital transformation of the Kingdom?

In 1985, after the formation of GulfNet, we connected King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST) to the Bitnet, the US research network at the time. In 1997, we first connected KACST to the internet, and then later the entire Kingdom. KACST was initially focused on the academic and research sectors, and the entire commercial segment was eventually outsourced to telecoms companies in 2006. Given the increase in traffic, we later connected the research segment to Internet2, which led to the formation of Maeen. Today, 27 universities, 20 government institutes, seven research centers, and three hospitals are connected to Maeen. This unprecedented growth gave us the scope to enable the digital transformation across the Kingdom's education, research, health, and industry sectors as part of Vision 2030.

What are your expectations for the short-term future, and how does Maeen position itself with regards to major industry developments?

We hope there will be a new global technology other than the internet; there are tests currently being done between GÉANT and Internet2 for a 400-GB infrastructure. There are many applications coming through the internet, and researchers do not like the noise that social and commercial applications are generating on the internet, which on the other hand are directly affecting the volume of traffic and latency required for research applications. As such, the first role of Maeen is to create a special channel for collaboration and integration that connects all research institutes, academic, and industry. Second, Maeen seeks to establish a portal that will integrate high-performance computing (HPC) together in the Kingdom, acting as an enabler of services. Third, it seeks to exploit its nature as a consortium to reduce the price of Maeen's member connectivity even further than what the research and academic sectors are getting. For this reason, telecoms companies see Maeen as a competitor, which of course is not the case. Therefore, it will take effort to demonstrate that Maeen is a national initiative with whom telecoms companies are partners in success. At the moment, we are looking to work with all telecom companies and big international vendors, including Cisco and other big names.

What is your strategy to work with industry?

Maeen currently seeks to address issues both on the applied research side and the fundamentals one. Regarding the latter, many research projects are not being developed because there is no integration between the research and academic sectors, on the one hand, and industry, on the other. This is why we are looking into developing the proper methodology to connect these research projects with corresponding industrial firms to turn them into products. On the other hand, industries will be able to find the suitable research or researcher to help implement their future initiatives without the need to invest in building their own R&D departments.