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VRE for regional Interdisciplinary communities in Southeast Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - VI-SEEM (VRE for regional Interdisciplinary communities in Southeast Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean)

Reporting period: 2017-04-01 to 2018-09-30

In the last decade, a number of initiatives were crucial for enabling high-quality research - by providing e- Infrastructure resources, application support and training - in both South East Europe (SEE) and Eastern Mediterranean (EM). They helped reduce the digital divide by ensuring access to regional e-Infrastructures to new member states, states on path to ascension, and states in European Neighborhood Policy area. Despite success of these projects, the SEEM region is still underprivileged compared to Western Europe in terms of available e-Infrastructure capacity as well as know-how; the actual access of the regional scientists to core pan-European e-Infrastructure is small compared to established EU research groups.
VI-SEEM brought together these regional e-Infrastructures to build capacity and better utilize synergies, for an improved service provision within a unified Virtual Research Environment (VRE) for the inter-disciplinary scientific user communities in the region. Overall objective was to provide user-friendly integrated e-Infrastructure platform for regional cross-border Scientific Communities in Climatology, Life Sciences, and Cultural Heritage; by linking compute, data, and visualization resources, as well as services, models, software and tools. This VRE aimed to provide the scientists and researchers with the support in full lifecycle of collaborative research: accessing and sharing relevant research data, using it with provided codes and tools to carry out new experiments and simulations on large-scale eInfrastructures, and producing new knowledge and data - which can be stored and shared in the same VRE. This VRE aimed to significantly leverage and strengthen the research capacities of these user communities and improve research productivity as well as competitiveness on the pan-European level.
Baseline set of e-Infrastructure services has been provided through the “e-Infrastructure services” activity: 23,694 CPU-cores, 1,166,592 GPU-cores (516 GPU cards), 20,496 Xeon Phi-core (336 Xeon Phi cards), 3,112 Grid CPU-cores, 14,152 Cloud VM-cores, and 18 PB of storage space, , with varied commitment levels around 10%.
The “Data Management Lifecycle” refined a range of services for data management. A large number of new scientific datasets have been identified, collected and pre-processed to make them suitable for uploading to the VI-SEEM repository service for the benefit of the user communities. Tools for supporting the quality control of the data sets were developed and integrated into the data set management utilities.
The activity on “Domain-specific services and support” provided a range of domain-specific services in Climatology, Digital Cultural Heritage (DCH) and Life Sciences and kept maintaining the VRE environment (http://vre.vi-seem.eu/) listing the different service modules, workflows and software tools, community datasets and application-level services. The structure of the VRE-portal has been changed so as to provide a user-friendly environment; a Cross-disciplinary section was also introduced and direct access was provided to other VI-SEEM sites such as the training portal and the code repository. Scientific support was continuously provided by this activity to all applications regarding baseline e-Infrastructure and data services support and for porting and running of the required tools. A number of Cross-disciplinary applications were introduced. Cross-disciplinary ontological solution was also developed.
The opening up of the VRE platform was facilitated by the “Capacity building, open calls and sustainability” activity. The consortium supported overall 66 projects that used the computing and storage resources dedicated to the VI-SEEM project. In total, 41 projects requested access to the HPC CPUs, 15 to HPC GPUs, 4 to HPC Xeon Phi cards, 18 to Cloud, and 3 to Grid resources. Specifically in this second reporting period, the project supported 17 applications accepted in the 2nd call, 22 applications accepted in the 3rd call, and 6 applications accepted in the SME call for production use of resources and services.
A strong dissemination, training and marketing campaign has been continued in the second project period. The project outreach has diversified in terms of audience, reaching out the students, universities, wide research community, SMEs and industry, and the highest level of policy making environment. During the second project period 1 regional and 9 national dissemination events were organized by the project and they attracted more than 600 participants. Participation in science fairs and similar large events has further extended the outreach to many thousands. More than 300 users were trained during the 11 training events (4 regional, 7 national). Project was presented at local universities with dedicated lectures and tours. 54 scientific publications were published, outlining the publishing of two special issues of the open access scientific journals SCPE and CIT with papers presenting project results. The project also took part in large-scale popular scientific events targeting general public, where the partners presented the project and opened the doors of their centres to the visitors.
The driving ambition of this project was to take leadership in enabling and supporting e-Infrastructure based research and innovation in the region of South-East Europe and Eastern Mediterranean for the three strategic regional user communities, advancing their work, as well as bridging the development gap with the rest of Europe. By using the VI-SEEM VRE, the researchers from the less-resourced countries of the region were able to work on a par with their peers from the core of Europe and the world, have a unique regional platform to conduct their projects across regional borders, and be able to advance the excellence in their research.
The impact is thus visible by both the increase in the scientific output and larger demand for e-Infrastructure resources, as well as of by the improved knowhow of the research groups regarding e-Infrastructure use. This expertise has been propagated to less-resourced countries, while existing e-Infrastructure installations have been given a development boost through resources and training. It is thus imperative that the momentum is maintained: goal being to enable the region to go beyond the current state and match the demand for and use of e-Infrastructures to that of the rest of Europe.
From the socio-economic point of view, an integrated e-Infrastructure can act as an effective instrument in integrating countries neighbouring Europe and bringing their scientific communities together. Building scientific links with Europe’s neighbouring countries motivates and encourages collaboration, exchanges of people and knowledge transfer. This results in enlarging the trained human resources on which EU technology and industry can draw from. An equally important aspect in particular for the Middle East, is to utilize scientific cooperation to bring people of very different culture and beliefs closer. Building links among the scientists in Egypt, Armenia, Jordan, Israel and Cyprus was a formidable challenge – let alone Western Balkans burdened by recent conflict. The ambition of the project was thus fulfilled: is to spread science and technology and the sharing of European infrastructure to promote excellence and innovation in the SEEM area.
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