Tuesday, September 22, 2009

You say e-infrastructure, I say cyber infrastructure... let's collaborate

At EGEE, the project office is a paragon of US-EC collaboration –European and American staff work literally side by side, often with much amusement generated on all sides by the quirks of each other’s cultures (the mysteries of London’s Cockney rhyming slang being the most recent source of interest/confusion). So I was keen to attend the session yesterday on EC and US work programmes, which particularly focused on opportunities for closer collaboration.

Presenting for the EC was Kyriakos Baxevanidis, Deputy Head of Unit for the GÉANT & e-Infrastructure Unit; from across the pond was Dr. José Muñoz, Director (Acting) of the Office of Cyber Infrastructure.

Baxevanidis started out by describing the EC’s motivations for funding e-infrastructure, including solving the major global challenges facing all of us of today, such as climate change, poverty, disease and finding new sources of energy. The EC also aims to accelerate globalisation, promote democratic values and ICTs worldwide.

As Baxevanidis pointed out, the US and EC already have a history of working together, issuing joint statements in 2005 and most recently in 2008, the EC/US Science & Technology Agreement.

More specifically, the FP7 funding programme running until 2013 is open to so-called ‘third countries’, such as the US and there are also mechanisms within the Capacities - International Cooperation programme for US institutions to receive EC funding.

In fact, the US has had an excellent success rate in winning funding through the EC call system and there are several examples of US and EC agencies working together, including EGEE itself in partnership with Open Science Grid. Similarly DEISA2 is working with TeraGrid, GEANT is teamed up with NASA and others – the list goes on.

Through informal meetings between NSF-OCI and INFSO-F3, the US and EC are exploring new common areas of research, such as exascale computing and data interoperability. Education, support, training and outreach are all areas that are ripe for productive collaboration.

Uppermost in the minds of many of us here at EGEE09 is the currently open Capacities – e-Infrastructure call, FP7-Infrastructures-2010-2, with a deadline for submitting proposals of 24 November. Baxevanidis’ message to US and EC colleagues - don't miss it and do not let opportunities for co-operation pass you by!

José Muñoz reported from the National Science Foundation’s point of view, as Acting Director of the Office of Cyber Infrastructure. In the US, as in Europe, biosciences and social sciences are starting to make use of cyber infrastructures. OCI also recognises that data is becoming increasingly important. As Muñoz puts it, "Data is key to the way we do science".

The NSF is concentrating on four key areas: high performance computing, data visualisation and virtual organisations, as well as learning and work force needs and education. In addition, research into collaborative computational science is also becoming increasingly important.

Outlining some of the big funding areas in the US at the moment, Muñoz gave us a few details aboutTeraGrid - an interlinked network of 14 supercomputers that have enabled research in subatomic particle physics, protein folding, drug design and nanotechnology. Growth has been phenomenal - from 180 TFlops in June 2007 to 2.01 PFlops today, exceeding 3PFlops once BlueWater is commissioned, with a predicted 1 PFlop sustained performance on real applications.

Some of the themes for future 'solicitations' (the US translation of ‘calls’) include innovative use of 'computational thinking'. With virtual organisations increasing representing the way science is going, investigating what makes these effective is important.

As covered in other sessions here at EGEE’09, Muñoz confirmed, "The data problem is here." DataNet will look into how to achieve reliable, long-term digital preservation that is economically and technological viable.

As mentioned by Jennifer Schopf in her keynote presentation, the NSF will also fund work into networks connecting to other global networks, new technology and international standards.

So what opportunities are there for collaboration? Muñoz introduced an exchange programme for HPC and computational scientists that will allow them to spend an extended time on a foreign site, starting next summer. "We will send them overseas and see what happens."

For the future, the OCI’s priorities are to integrate the current schemes into a comprehensive cyberinfrastructure. They want to see new software, deeper partnerships with international partners, support for cyber-learning and a computational science programme that reaches out internationally.

One final thought for the future from Muñoz that we should all keep in mind: "Students today are digital natives. We need teachers throughout the educational systems to be comfortable using cyber infrastructure- this will help us to create the 21st century workforce.”

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