Thursday, October 14, 2010

Mapping out e-Infrastructures at the e-IRG workshop

Today I attended the e-Infrastructure Reflection Group workshop in Brussels in the highly appropriate venue of the Royal Library. As scholars in the room opposite pored over detailed ancient maps, flanked by the massive iron printing presses that produced these early examples of cutting edge data, the delegates debated how e-Infrastructures will cope with tomorrow’s data deluge and the technologies that will generate it. More specifically - how to run e-Infrastructures, how to help users get the most out of them and how to pay for them.

Yesterday’s sessions came to some interesting conclusions about what is important for e-infrastructures generally. Stability and sustainability are key and users should be the focal point. Standardisation is a must and interfaces should be as friendly as possible. Virtualisation is seen as the next wave. Before we crest that wave though, we need to tackle some of the energy issues facing our data centres – as they make higher and higher demands on the local electricity resources, thought should go into how to make high end computing more energy efficient. You can just build your data centre where electricity is cheaper, but it’s better for the environment if you try to reduce power consumption in the first place. Exascale computing is coming, and we all need to be prepared – something that the European Exascale Software Initiative (EESI), PRACE (Partnership for Advance Computing in Europe) and TEXT (Towards Exascale Applications) projects are already looking at.

The conclusions from the sessions on governance and financial aspects were mixed and generated lots of (sometimes healthily heated) debate. What came out of them was really a series of questions – should e-Infrastructure governance be nation directed or user directed? How do you strike a balance between the leading users and ‘the masses’? At what levels do you involve partners – full or associated partners, federated hierarchies or a mixture of different models? From the financial side, you need to invest in international e-Infrastructures without creating financial or legal barriers for international use. There needs to be a balance between national and European level funding but what place is there for charging for use of the facilities? Should you charge national participants in e-Infrastructure initiatives according to their GDP or their user base and how can you bring private enterprise on board? What role do the new legal framework, ERICs (European Research Infrastructure Consortium) have to play, and can the process of setting them up be speeded up? For the European Research Area to compete, continued excellence is needed and perhaps a matched funding model can provide the key to innovation – EU funding unlocks national funding which in turn releases campus funding.

All in all, a stimulating day – I’ll look forward to reading the next White Paper!

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