Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A funny thing happened on the way to the CHAIN Forum…

It’s impossible to come to Rome without feeling like you’ve wandered onto a film set. Having travelled hot foot from CERN last week, and arriving in a hotel right behind the Pantheon, it was hard to resist making comparisons with a certain Dan Brown novel (although vengeful Illuminati assassins were fortunately not in obvious abundance). Taking a stroll round the Colosseum and the Forum after the meeting closed yesterday, references to everything from La Dolce Vita to Gladiator to Up Pompeii pop up at every turn. (Attempting to explain the humour of Up Pompeii’s British comedian Frankie Howerd to colleagues proved to be quite a tricky challenge however). A city as ancient and iconic as Rome really makes you think about the true meaning of ‘sustainability’. Ensuring that international grids stand the test of time for as long as the Colosseum might be a bit of a tall order, but the projects presenting at the CHAIN Launch event today are doing their best.

CHAIN is working with geographical regions that are highly experienced in grids, such as Europe, Asia, Latin America and also with so-called ‘greenfield’ sites where grids are at the exciting stage of getting off the ground, such as in Africa. With 50 countries in this region alone it is mostly an untapped area but although it is widely dispersed geographically, the scientific communities are quite well defined. It’s not too difficult to find the right people to talk to about grids to get new communities on board. As Bruce Becker of SAGrid said, this area could benefit from a great opportunity to avoid the pitfalls that other e-Infrastructures have encountered. Also working with CHAIN and SAGrid are AfricaConnect, which will bring together five countries in Africa for science and education. There are particular challenges in working in Africa of course – Margaret Ngwira of the Ubuntunet Alliance described hosting a meeting on ISABEL with EU colleagues stranded by the Icelandic volcano. Only to see the screen suddenly go black when the cable to Africa was cut, an outage that lasted two months.

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Depei Qian of CNGrid in China updated us with some of the HPC and grid applications running in China, for example in the areas of drug discovery, weather forecasting, aerospace research and mining. They have also set up domain application grids, to support simulations in businesses such as the automobile, aircraft and steel industries. The CAS e-Science Programme is also setting up a supercomputing grid - showing that the region has been active in grids and HPC but perhaps still has a way to go in the areas of kernel technologies, applications, multi-disciplinary research and skilled people.

The GISELA project has a long history of working in the Latin American region, through the EELA and EELA-2 projects. GISELA will pick up this work, in collaboration with the CLARA network and is already running the IGALC Regional Operational Centre, that is EGI compliant. They are also actively looking to establish a sustainable basis for the activities in the region, much as EGI itself is already working towards in Europe.

So we may not quite yet have built the e-Infrastructure equivalent of the Colosseum in every country, but to mangle a phrase from Frankie Howerd, there are definitely some interesting things happening on the way to the Forum.

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