Report Submitted to The Ethiopian E-Mail Distribution Network (EEDN)
By the AAU Networking Committee, April 1994
This report outlines the major features and events of the project that was initiated on EEDN (or as popularly known as Cleo) almost two years ago to connect the Addis Ababa University to global computer-based networks. The project that was completed few months ago required the collaboration of US based Ethiopian volunteers, AAU faculty and the staff of the PADISNET at the Head Office of the Economic Commission for Africa. At the time of writing of this report, 18 major AAU departments and institutions, Alemaya University, Gondar and Jimma Medical colleges have already been successfully connected to the outside world through electronic mail. The faculty and students of AAU are now fully enjoying the immense benefits that this medium avails.
In late Spring of 1991, barely six months after the establishment of an Ethiopian computer- based network, popularly known as Cleo, there was a successful attempt by some Ethiopians residing in the US in establishing electronic mail contact with the local FidoNet manager in Addis, Lishan Adam. This was further followed by an initial informal investigation on the extent of e-mail service in Ethiopia. It was learned that at that time, the faculty and students of the Addis Ababa University and the other major educational and research institutions of the nation did not have any form of electronic-mail access to the rest of the world. Around the same time, Dr. Ermias Dagne, a chemistry professor from AAU on Sabbatical leave here in the US asked Samuel Kinde of Virginia Tech about the possibility of providing e-mail services to the Addis Ababa University. The request was forwarded to the Cleo community and it was met with a lot of enthusiasm. A brief on-line discussion about the technical and logistic feasibility of the proposed project was carried out on Cleo prior to the establishment of a technical committee to oversee the execution of the project. By late May 1992, the AAU Networking Committee made up of four volunteers was formed in a response to this initiative.
Cleo's AAU Networking Committee started its work by laying the groundwork for establishing some kind of contact with the AAU officials and faculty members. The Ethiopian Scientific Society, Inc., (ESS) volunteered to facilitate the contact by offering to discuss the project with the then AAU president, Professor Alemayehu Teffera, who was on an official visit to the US. The President of the university gave a strong endorsement to the project and indicated that his office was ready to provide all the help it could. The President requested that a proposal be submitted to his office as early as possible and indicated that he will facilitate the setting up of a networking committee at the AAU.
With the initiative and cooperation of the ESS, a workshop on the networking effort was organized in Washington DC in the middle of October 1992. During the workshop, Grum Ketema, the project leader outlined the design proposal which envisaged setting up a UUCP (Unix-to-Unix CoPy Communication Protocol) link between an Internet gateway here in the US and a Unix machine at the AAU in Ethiopia through a high-speed error-detecting and correcting modem. The issue of communications costs of the calls between the gateway machines, which could possibly run to a significant amount, was also discussed and it was decided to solicit fund from the Cleo community and other entities.
It was also decided to carry out a preliminary evaluation of the computing environment at the AAU to exactly determine the state of computer usage at the university and data networking infrastructure structure in Ethiopia. Abraham Lakew of PRC in MacLean, VA who was at the Business School of the AAU on a UN sponsored trip few months earlier gave a report of his assessment.
With the help of the ESS, the Technical Committee was able to send out the survey questionnaire and to contact heads of the Faculties of Science and Technology who later on proved to be valuable contacts. The survey questionnaire was promptly returned to the US-based Technical Committee with a partial list of the available computers at the university including make and model. The result of the survey indicated that there were several dozen PCs running on DOS in the various colleges and departments of the university. However, there were no Unix machines. In the meantime, the technical committee got in touch with Lishan Adam, the local node manager for FidoNet, who expressed a lot of enthusiasm in the project. By May of 1993, the technical committee had sent an error-detecting and correcting international standard modem that was donated by TeleBit Corporation and a network administration book to the Faculty of Technology of the AAU.
THE ADDIS SIDE:
Through its contact with Lishan Adam and Nancy Rifkin of ECA, the technical committee learned that PADIS (Pan African Data Information Service) was already engaged in encouraging low cost electronic mail networks in Africa.
The original plan of providing electronic mail service to the University via UUCP link was revised in light of the efforts of PADIS. Moreover, an assessment of the volume of mail traffic, cost, trained personnel to operate the network, and technology infrastructure at the university, helped to determine that a low-cost low-end technology solution such as FidoNet was selected because it had a the right type of and the facilities to administer the network. The proposed network architecture consisted of a central mail server at the Faculty of Technology connected to other machines on campus via a pool of modems. The central server was to serve as the main mail feed.
MEETING OF ITS KIND AT AAU:
In Addis, Lishan was busy trying to pool people together for a technical meeting, a first of its kind, to be held at the Faculty of Science of the AAU. The meeting which was hosted by the Deans of Faculties of Science and Technology, Drs. Tewodros Solomon and Hailu Ayele, respectively marked the beginning of an important step in sensitizing the AAU community to the immense advantages of electronic mail networking. The meeting was attended by Nancy Rifkin and Lishan Adam, both from PADIS, Deans Tewodros and Hailu, Dr. Dida Midekso of Math. Department, two engineers from the Electrical Engineering Department, Getachew Hailu and Tesfu Haile, and Eskinder Abebe of SatelLife in Cambridge, MA.
Among the important points discussed in the meeting were the comprehensive automation strategy that the university was pursuing then and the role of the various departments in acquiring the necessary equipment and maintaining them. There was a particular emphasis on installing LAN(Local Area Network) which was believed to form an important backbone for the whole effort of networking at the university.
The technical, administrative and financial, and training aspects of the linking strategy were discussed in detail. Questions of how to link the stand alone computers at the various departments, the LAN PCs at the Faculty of Technology and the workstations at Mathematics and Physics Departments to the main server were discussed. A dial-up technology that involves voice-grade telephone lines, modems and PCs was suggested as a solution. For the future, high speed cables with repeaters including fiber optic cables were suggested, due to the short physical distance between the various campuses of the university.
The group also stressed the fact that there was a visible need to train network administrators and students in Unix environment for a reliable operation of the network and recommended that funds be secured for such a training. On its part, the US-based Technical Committee submitted the name of two AAU staff members for the INET '93 conference that was to be held in San Francisco in August of 1993. Unfortunately due to limited scholarship funds, INET '93 organizers were unable to offer AAU's network administrators any financial aid. PADIS officials offered to secure shareware communication and network software as soon as possible and start an introductory group training course to the university faculty, staff and students on a need basis. The training was scheduled to begin in the first week of May 1993.
In the mean time, the Cleo community was raising funds to be allocated for the purchase of internal and external modems, connection cables, and accessories. The Networking Committee was also actively soliciting donations of equipment and peripherals from US-based communication giants. All equipment shipping costs to AAU from New York was covered by PADIS.
AAU MEETS THE FUTURE:
By the first week of May, 1993, Lishan Adam had successfully started training AAU faculty and staff on FidoNet-based electronic messaging technology and network administration. At the same time, a couple of PCs were connected to the FidoNet node at PADIS in the other side of town thus effectively enabling the university to have its first electronic mail connection to the outside world. By the end of the training, the Faculty of Technology at Amst Kilo, Chemistry Department, and the Mathematics Department were able to send and receive e-mail to the outside world through a dial-up service to the FidoNet node at PADIS. Through out the Summer, formal and informal sensitizing of the AAU community about this efficient service continued. By the end of June of 93, additional 10 modems were sent by the Technical Committee thus enabling more departments to have e-mail access. Subsequently, Abass Alamenhe of Houston, TX and his friends donated five more modems which were also shipped to the University.
In the mean time, the Technical Committee was able to secure a donation of a 3b2/400 Unix computer from AT& T. In addition to TCP/IP (the standard Internet protocol), the computer also supports the high speed packet switched data network protocol, X.25. A number of software packages including a software development environment package, Unix windowing utilities and network administration software were installed on the Unix machine. The Unix machine, computer accessories, cabling for terminals, one power transformer, 100 floppy disks, and 10 high density cartridge tapes were shipped to the university through PADIS in early 1994. By mid- February, additional five Hayes Accura external modems complete with the telephone and serial cables and transformers were also sent and delivered to the university.
E-MAIL ACROSS ETHIOPIA:
Lishan Adam, the local networking champion, traveled to Gondar Medical College, Jimma Medical College and the Alemaya Agricultural University last February with 14400 baud rated modems and the necessary peripherals to provide e-mail connection capability to these institutions. In the mean time, the Building College at Lideta near the Old Airport has joined the growing ranks of e-mail users in Ethiopia.
After a time span of a little less than two years and a critical contribution from the Cleo community, ESS, PADIS and AAU faculty, there are now well over 140 users of e-mail in Ethiopia's educational and research institutions. If the expansion of e-mail in other developing countries, particularly Latin America could be an indication, the above figure could increase many folds in the near future. At that point, the need to upgrade the nation's networking infrastructure to what is now the defacto global computer network, i.e. the Internet will be more pressing.
At this juncture, however, Cleo's Technical Committee having accomplished what it initially set out to do concludes its mission.
The AAU Networking Committee would like to thank all who helped it in executing this project and bringing it to a fruitful conclusion. A particular thanks goes to Lishan Adam of PADIS, without whose enthusiastic participation, this project would never have been completed. Nancy Rifkin of PADIS, Professor Alemayehu Teffera, the former president of AAU, Dr. Samuel Lakeou and Dr. Brook Lakew of the ESS, Deans Dr. Theodros Solomon and Dr. Hailu Ayele, Dr. Ermias Dagne of Chemistry, Dr. Dida Midekso of Mathematics, Getachew Hailu and Tesfu Tilahun of Electrical Engineering, Abraham Lakew of PRC in Virginia, Abass Alameneh and his friends in Houston and last but not least, the Cleo community and its postmaster, Teshager Tesfaye deserve a special recognition.