Provenance the Web Magazine ISSN 1203-8954 - Vol.1, No.3 - July 1996

Networking in Vietnam

Tien Dao, System Administrator, the National Library of Australia

The Vietnam Internet Project's (VIP) recent work to "...assist staff at the National Library of Vietnam (NLV) to install a local area computer network and to train them in the use of basic Internet services." is described in this article. A range of developmental issues are also examined regarding information technology (IT) and Internet services at the NLV in particular, and in Vietnam in general.


In March this year I went to Hanoi to assist staff at the National Library of Vietnam (NLV) to install a local area computer network and to train them in the use of basic Internet services. This was my second consultancy visit to Vietnam-both visits were undertaken as a team member of the Vietnam Internet project (VIP). VIP was initiated by the Coombs Computing Unit of the Australian National University (ANU), with funding by the Department of Employment, Education and Training.

During the month I spent in Hanoi I had the opportunity to meet the NLV s Board of Directors as well as most of its key staff to discuss information technology (IT) and Internet services at the NLV in particular, and in Vietnam in general.

Information technology infrastructure at the NLV Ten years ago, an Olivetti personal computer donated by the National Library of Australia to the NLV was the very first piece of computer hardware to make its way into the Vietnamese library community. Several staff from the NLV came to Canberra for training at the National Library in computer cataloguing during that time, and more computing equipment was acquired, mostly to run the UNESCO-donated CDS/ISIS library database package. Staff at the NLV became proficient in the use of computers to store and access cataloguing data but it was difficult to share this data between Vietnamese libraries due to a lack of Wide Area Network (WAN) facilities.

Following the recent announcement of the Doi Moi (open-door) policy, and the lifting of the United States economic embargo, the Vietnamese government has begun to seriously invest in libraries.

Knowledge and information are vital to all facets of the development of Vietnam (economic, human, social, education and research, government, technical,foreign policy), and IT infrastructure must play a major role in delivering information. Based on their existing infrastructure, libraries in Vietnam are best placed to gather, store and provide information to officials, researchers, students, government bodies and the public.

For the NLV, increased government funding has resulted in the construction of a new building to replace the existing buildings, which badly needed maintenance if they were to continue to house staff and books; the acquisition of PCs for all provincial libraries, and the establishment of a network allowing these PCs to communicate with any one of the three regional hosts on the national communication axis (Ha Noi, Da Nang and Ho Chi Minh); and the availability of a Netware and a Local Area Network (LAN).

Current Internet services at the NLV

Basic Internet services have recently been designed and made available as part of the VIP. The success of this joint project has largely been due to the contribution of David Marr and Rob Hurle of the Coombs Computing Unit at the ANU, and to the National Library for making my services available. Except for the email service which has access to the Internet using a Unix to Unix Copy connection (a batch data transfer service), all other services have access only to a local server, since a direct link to the Internet is not yet available.

The services were designed to be as simple and friendly as possible to encourage staff to use them. Pine for Windows email was installed to familiarise staff with email client software, particularly in using email as a file transfer mechanism with the file attachment facility. File Transfer Protocol provides the facility to store, transfer and retrieve data using any authorised computer on the network. A service called TALK has been made available to NLV staff as a game.

This service will hopefully encourage staff to use the network as a means of communication. It is also a way of forcing users to employ the other services to complement TALK for document and data exchange.

A World Wide Web service has also been set up. As well as incorporating the NLV Web documents, the system allows users to create their own Hyper Text Markup language (HTML) documents and to make them available on the network. This will encourage staff to feed data to the server and become familiar with HTML document generation.

Current difficulties in Internet development

As with any new project there are challenges to be overcome. At present, IT skills are scarce. In response to the government policy on IT development, announced by Vietnam s Prime Minister, Vo Van Kiet, in August 1990, under the guidance of the IT development program known as the IT2000 program, management in most organisations has, to date, been preoccupied with IT acquisition. Organisations have not yet invested an appropriate amount for training the staff who are responsible for using and maintaining this new technology.

The high cost of telephone charges and data services has turned many organisations away from any Wide Area Network (WAN) scheme, presenting major difficulties in the development of a full Internet service infrastructure in Vietnam.

Although Vietnam has not been involved in any major conflict for the last two decades, the culture of secrecy is still present in many organisations. It is often difficult for the public to obtain information which should be available to every citizen, such as legislation, regulations, procedures, statistics, research work, and so on. Information is power is still the motto in the dealings of many organisations.

Government workers are poorly paid and therefore it is nearly impossible to employ IT staff to maintain and administer facilities. A government-employed IT specialist earns around US$40 per month, while in the private sector, the pay for an equivalent position is around US$150 per month.

Because of these difficulties, the spread of Internet services in Vietnam cannot follow the model of high-tech and resource-rich countries such as Australia, a country with immediate direct connection to the Internet and access to distributed information servers. Instead, services need to be introduced in phases to match the local computing infrastructure and skills. Implementing services that the local environment does not have the capacity to use, maintain and administer will put unfair pressure on staff and will result in a waste of valuable resources.

In planning Internet services for Vietnam, it is important to take into account that, in most installations, IT infrastructure is still based on stand-alone x86 PCs, or a small Local Area Network (LAN) operated by novice users. A Wide Area Network (WAN) infrastructure is still a luxury which many organisations cannot afford even in the near future. Not only is a centralised information server model appropriate in the current environment, it will also adapt well in the future as WAN infrastructure becomes available, since all Internet services are designed for both LAN and WAN environments.

Data and information are the essence of all these Internet services, so it is imperative that organisations allocate staff dedicated to gathering, organising, indexing and presenting information to be made available on the servers. These people should be trained to administer the servers, to promote a culture of information-sharing across organisations, to gather useful information from various organisations, and to promote the Internet services to an increasingly wider audience.

Without data and information there is no raison d etre for any of these services; therefore, the information to be made available needs to be selected carefully to meet users needs, as well as government concern about national security and unacceptable influences. Initially the server should have:

  • public domain software
  • Internet training material
  • local information for the public
  • contacts in various government departments
  • important legislation, government policy papers
  • university news
  • topical news
  • a job search list
  • discussion lists on popular topics
  • a buy and sell list
  • a search engine to find information on the local server.

With pockets of centralised information servers and good quality information, users and system administrators will learn and familiarise themselves with the new technology. Internet skills as well as information on the servers will be built up. Once users realise that the new technology is useful and can boost their productivity, they will adopt it and help to expand it.

The future of Internet services at the NLV

The NLV s Board of Directors are determined to lead the country in IT development in order to support its library and Internet services. There is no doubt that the NLV and Vietnam s IT development are benefiting from the assistance and support provided by the VIP workers, as well as from the willingness of organisations, such as the National Library and the ANU, with advanced Internet exposure to transfer their Internet skills. It is my belief that Internet services will gain in popularity, and that Vietnam will be able to join in the international Internet community in the near future.

Tien Dao is System Administrator at the National Library of Australia.

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Last update July, 1996