Friday, March 23, 2012

Wrapping up ICRI with Neelie Kroes and the Digital Agenda

Today’s closing sessions at ICRI brought together a summary of the parallel sessions earlier in the week. The rapporteur for the e-infrastructures session summarised how e-infrastructures are being used for many purposes including network, compute, data and storage. The over-riding theme of the discussions was that e-infrastructures must be global, open and able to support data enabled science – e-science.

He reported that the conversation about data has changed. The principles underlying the need for open data remain the same, to ensure reproducibility and to get the maximum value from the data by reuse and reanalysis. The change is in how far to go with the data – how do we deal with privacy issues, intellectual property and data ‘mining’ ie that data is mine, not yours! As someone reportedly said during the session, “may all your problems just be technical ones!”

Nevertheless, there have been big changes in tools and practices in several domains, supported by policy changes. We need e-infrastructures to be easy to use, in order to remove barriers to sociological change. The session also covered timing issues, with the estimate that it can take around 5 years from funding to operation. But there is also an attitude within the community of “build it and they will come”. Just do it!

The cost of openness cannot be avoided, and lies at the boundary between research and infrastructure. But in the end, openness may be an extra cost to projects, but not to the programme as a whole. “We don’t need more money, we just need courage," as one participant put it.

In the end, it’s all about transmitting knowledge to future generations. This still happens through publishing research results and transmitting expertise through the education system. But now we have both data and software transmitted through e-infrastructure.

To help wrap up the meeting, we also heard from Mario Campolargo, Director of DG Information Society and Media at the EC, who welcomed Neelie Kroes, European Commissioner for the Digital Agenda. Kroes talked about investing in infrastructures for innovation. Science itself is changing, and modern science needs a free flow of knowledge and expertise, in an e-infrastructure that is open across national borders, disciplines and scientific communities. Kroes praised high speed research networks, like GEANT, for connecting researchers, and PRACE for developing the supercomputing capacity to deal with demanding scientific applications. The European Grid Infrastructure is providing access to shared grid and cloud computing facilities – so all in all, there is much to feel good about despite the troubles that Europe is facing today.

You can read Neelie Kroes' speech in full at

In the meantime, it’s back to Amsterdam for me, just in time to prepare for the next stop on the e-infrastructure roadshow – the EGI Community Forum in Munich next week. Prost!

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