Linkage Online will work with Hong Kong School Net to launch the School Internet Exchange (SIX), which aims to act as an Internet and intranet backbone linking 1,300 primary and secondary schools in the SAR. School Net, founded in 1994 by the Chinese University, was a temporary measure to offer low-cost Internet access for teachers and students, said Professor P.C. Wong, who is in charge of the project. He said School Net might end, or change its role, after two years. SIX is aimed at serving a long-term purpose to offer not only high-speed Internet access via leased lines, but also to form a hub with dedicated servers for schools to share and exchange education resources, such as teaching materials and administrative information. The virtual private network among connected local schools of SIX can speed up inter-school communication and make it more secure. Presently, schools can get local and international Internet access from Internet service providers (ISPs), but have to set up their own application servers - such as a filter server for content censorship, firewall for security, and e-mail server for messaging. Most schools did not have the budget and technical expertise to do so, Mr Wong said. 'Sharing for better' was the principle for SIX, which would help schools use the Internet for education as well as for administration applications. The concept of SIX was to allow schools to gain the cost-effectiveness of sharing international bandwidth, application servers and other networking equipment. Participating schools have to host their own local area network server and router, while ATM switches, application servers, proxy servers and modem pools are offered by and located at SIX. The annual service charge for SIX connection ranges from $30,000 to $70,000, varying with the bandwidth of the leased line and networking services. The cost was about half that of a commercial package, Linkage said. There were 17 schools connected to SIX, which was first targeting the 20 schools under the Education Department's IT education pilot scheme, before reaching out to the 1,300 schools throughout the SAR 'as soon as possible', Linkage's sales manager, Ravic Li, said. IXTech, a Chinese University Foundation spin-off, recently launched its Hong Kong Commercial Internet Exchange (HKCIX). Offering free local Internet access, it also targets schools and local organisations with high usage of local traffic. While SIX is specific for building a secure virtual private network among schools, HKCIX does not offer the same protection. It also targets corporations, content providers and small ISPs by providing network facility hosting and management services, but does not offer network equipment.