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eInfrastructures: a fundamental building block of the ERA
- Building on GÉANT and Grids
- The concept
- An objective of FP6 in support of the ERA
- The Reflection Group, a policy initiative
Building on GÉANT and Grids
The recent achievements of the pan-European network for researchers GÉANT mark the beginning of a new era in Research Networking in Europe. GÉANT provides new means for research and collaboration within the scientific community by making seamless interaction possible over large distances. It provides equal access for all scientists to research facilities in Europe. At the same time GÉANT allows more cost effective and efficient ways of scientific collaboration like almost instantaneous exchange of data and serving user communities with specific needs (e.g. astronomers, high energy physicists, etc.). The Fifth Framework Programme (FP5)project GN1 whose task is to build the GÉANT network has been funded for a total budget of € 200 M and EC contribution of € 80 M.
These efforts are being strengthened in the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6) by further enlarging the user base of GÉANT and by keeping up the technological advancements to reach hundreds of Gigabit per second communications capacities. This network will represent a significant step forward as compared to the network built in FP5 in a number of factors: services available, communities served, geographical scope, bandwidth, readiness to adopt relevant new technologies, etc. The aim is to contribute to the development of an eInfrastructure for research capitalising on new computing and communication technologies and promoting a further breadth and depth to the collaboration amongst researchers in Europe. At the same time the international dimension of GÉANT will be enhanced by improving the communication capacities with scientists from other parts of the world.
Another large domain related to eInfrastructure is Grids technology. Grid initiatives supported by the European Commission are an evolving process. They started in early 2000 with the development of large scale international test-beds in the IST Programme (funded in Research Networking). Because of the broad nature and the multidisciplinary approach of Grids research a Cross-Programme Action (CPA) was created in 2001 within the IST Programme which continued in 2002. Grids activities expanded significantly in this context. For a three year period the IST Programme has granted a total funding of approximately € 49 M for 19 projects in the area of Grids technology and applications. Most of the projects include test-beds which brought Grids technology from the laboratory into the real world. Several application areas are covered: high energy physics, astrophysics, quantum chemistry and drug design, earth and environment, biology and medicine, risk management, computational fluid dynamics, industrial simulations, etc.
In the context of the Sixth Framework Programme, the EC is developing a broader vision on eInfrastructure. One of the main goals is to create on top of the pan-European network for research GÉANT, another pan-European infrastructure which is based on Grids-architectures. While GÉANT's main objective is connectivity (throughput, geographical coverage, quality of service, etc.), the Grids infrastructure will focus on processing of information (computing, data and service Grids). These two aspects will constitute an integral eInfrastructure with qualitatively new functionality and capabilities like the creation of virtual collaborations for research communities in a large number of scientific fields. In order to achieve this ambitious goal, the following priorities are crucial:
- Use of the GÉANT network as the main underlying connectivity platform.
- Co-ordinate and link in a significant way the GÉANT and Grids roadmaps and efforts.
- Work in collaboration with user communities building a bridge between networking and Grids technology on one hand and application areas on the other hand.
In this context it is important to identify the major actors relevant to the provision and use of the future eInfrastructure (GÉANT and Grid empowered infrastructure) and to explore the establishment of synergies between them. Three groups of actors emerge as relevant:
- GÉANT partners (both at national and international level in which the NRENs (National Research and Education Networks) play a major role).
- Those who will deploy Grids infrastructures in the future. They are likely to stem from the current Grids test-beds.
- the current and potential research user communities, including scientist in academia, public and private research institutes and research departments of industrial entities in all areas of scientific activity.
The figure above represents a simplified view on the eInfrastructure (GÉANT and Grid empowered infrastructure). The flashes represent:
- Requirements (from user to research infrastructure provider)
- Services (from research infrastructure provider to user)
- Surveys and benchmarking.
Note that GÉANT provides services both to Grid infrastructures and to research users directly, while Grid infrastructures have a dual role as a user of GÉANT and as a service provider to users.
Only by insuring a close co-operation between providers and users of eInfrastructures, it is possible to attain a major priority of FP6: to build a pan-European Grids-empowered eInfrastructure that serves the concrete and actual needs of researchers. Europe needs to build such a very large-scale facility which operates reliably and continuously in order to meet the requirements of e-Science. This will create the conditions to do research and development in Europe in a qualitatively different way and will fulfil the political and social objectives of the European Research Area.
Studies on user communities and their requirements is a very significant step in this process. The objective is to build a bridge between GÉANT and Grid infrastructures on the one hand and the research user communities in as many scientific areas as possible on the other. The EC would like to trigger work in this area with the goal to further integrate already existing activities, undertaken at the national level or at the level of individual projects. The scope of this process is meant to go beyond national borders, project consortia, and the interests of any specific research field or industry.
An objective of FP6 in support of the ERA
In March 2000 the Lisbon European Council adopted the European Research Area (ERA) which lays the foundation of a common science and technology policy across the European Union. The ERA aims to co-ordinate national research policies in the direction of shared objectives, expertise and resources. The Sixth Framework Programme (FP6) is a fundamental instrument to implement the ERA.
FP6 foresees the implementation of the eInfrastructure concept as part of the objectives of the Specific Programme "Structuring the European Research Area" - "Support for Research Infrastructure". In concrete terms, the Work Programme specifies that: "The Communication Network Development scheme will be concerned with the development of a "cyber-infrastructure" for Research capitalizing on new computing and communication opportunities and will promote a further breadth and depth to the collaboration amongst researchers in Europe." The deployment of such a eInfrastructure requires a coordinated approach to the development of GÉANT, Grid infrastructures and Test-beds.
Within Research Infrastructure, the Communications Network Development scheme entails work in two areas with a total budget of € 200 M:
- GÉANT - aiming to provide a high-capacity and high-speed communications network interconnecting the European National Research and Education Networks.
- Grids - aiming to deploy advanced Grid-empowered infrastructures which should have production-level performance capabilities and constitute themselves distributed facilities at gigabit/terabit scales (in terms of computing, storage and communication power).
The work on Test-beds is being done within the context of the Sixth Framework Programme Thematic Priority 2 - Information Society Technologies (IST) - Strategic Objective Research networking test-beds with a budget of € 50 M. The IST Workprogramme clarifies that this "work is complementary to and in support of the activities carried out in the area of Research Infrastructure", aiming at the deployment of advanced, user-driven large scale test-beds with the goal to integrate and validate the state-of-the-art technology relevant to the eInfrastructure.
It should be noted that another Strategic Objective of the IST Thematic Priority will significantly contribute to the establishment and continuous upgrade of eInfrastructures in Europe. This is namely "Grid-based systems for Complex Problems Solving" . This Strategic Objective promotes research on "Grid, Peer-to-Peer and other types of networked distributed computing and storage technologies, as well as emerging web-technologies, which make possible to conceive new paradigms exploiting distributed resources". A total budget of € 125 M has been granted.
The Reflection Group, a policy initiative.
The eInfrastructure concept is a concrete implementation of a new model of shared use of computing and data resources across diverse technological, administrative and national domains. The current developments are creating the expectation that the underlying technologies are maturing quickly enough to support the emergence of this new eInfrastructure. In the long run it is expected to become a commodity service to the research community. In order to optimally implement the eInfrastructure concept, appropriate administrative and policy decision mechanisms are already put in place.
Every six months the respective EU presidency organises a workshop with the participation of representatives of all the European National Research and Education Networks and the national Grid Programmes. In order to address the challenges described above, a eInfrastructures Reflection Group was created after the first workshop in June 2003. Its objectives are:
- To provide a framework for easier, faster and more effective access for all European researchers to all types of information resources (networking, computing, data storage) distributed across Europe.
- To promote the best practice implementation of such a model in research, so that to facilitate and accelerate the subsequent commercial uptake of the mew paradigm.
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