Glasgow University partners with ‘next gen’ internet firm

Students at the University of Glasgow will become the first in the UK to a use a ‘next generation’ internet technology developed by a Scottish company offering an alternative version of the web.

Under a partnership agreement, around 170 students will begin work during the next semester on a platform developed by MaidSafe, a Troon-based company which has been working on a systems architecture technology that removes the need for centralised data stores.

Instead, MaidSafe’s SAFE Network allows data to be stored on the spare computing resources of users and for them to be able to communicate with each other directly rather than via third party servers.

The technology was released to the world earlier this year after 10 years in the making by MaidSafe founder David Irvine and a team of developers that have grown steadily in number during that time.

Dr Inah Omoronyia, lecturer in Software Engineering and Information Security at UoG, said: “We felt the ideas MaidSafe had were aligned very much to some of the research we had in mind; David was very supportive of what we were trying to do.

More recently we have been seeing how we can push across the idea of a next generation technology and to see how students can leverage that to develop good and interesting applications. So we’re in the process of trying to introduce the SAFE Network to our second year students to see how they can make use of it.”

He added: “The idea behind the SAFE Network is quite novel and is a shift in the state of the art. The reason why is because we have a very centralised in nature network, where big servers know everything we do and everything we do has to pass through them, so the notion of autonomy is not there at all.

“The internet is a big client-server application but if you think about MaidSafe the internet is just a simple set of nodes that are trying to communicate with each other. ”

Dr Omoronyia said currently the information people upload to the internet is propagated in a network they don’t have control of. The MaidSafe technology “turns that around” and gives back “control” of data to the user, he added.

“The whole point that there is no centralised repository of the information is particularly interesting and it’s where the new generation technologies are shifting towards.”

Dr Omoronyia said the blockchain-style technology is a response to the growing concerns about privacy and that technologists have been working on ways of improving security for users.

He also compared the evolution of such Peer-to-Peer technologies to the emergence of machine-to-machine communications integral to the Internet of Things (IoT).

“That is about the connection of a network of small devices, which are becoming more and more intelligent and are able to make very complex decisions that you wouldn’t think such devices could make a few years ago,” he said.

“So that is where technology is shifting and I think it is right that academics – the people who teach this technology – are able to move with it as well.

“We are no longer thinking about teaching our students how to develop simple client-server applications, but encouraging them to think about adapting to a new type of design for systems, where instead of having a client-server interaction you are talking about things like service-oriented architectures and even beyond service-oriented architectures.

“You are talking micro services where you are having multiple services interacting with each other; with all this I see the ability to be able to develop these kind of systems and those kind of applications is actually what the SAFE Network uses. So it actually was very good for me to realise that this was the direction MaidSafe was taking us towards.”

The SAFE Network is currently in its Alpha release and MaidSafe is inviting developers to begin building applications on the platform. An email client and an open source browser have already been developed as well as a crowdfunded forum.