Wednesday, October 24, 2012

An integrated European e-Infrastructure?

Collaboration has definitely been an overriding theme of the EUDAT conference this week, first between the ESFRI cluster projects, between EUDAT and the Research Infrastructures, and finally between the e-infrastructures themselves. Bearing data issues in mind, where and how do the e-infrastructures see themselves collaborating? With Dire Strait’s ‘Brothers in arms’ playing over the PA system during the break (look it up if you’re over 30), it seemed like we even had a theme tune for the discussions.

Thomas Eikermann of supercomputing infrastructure PRACE reminded us how users gain access to their supercomputing resources through a peer review process, which is open to all researchers in public and private organisations. Using the resources is free of charge once your proposal is accepted. Initially they have offered preparatory and project-based access. Traditionally they have offered 12 month allocations through two bi-annual calls but are now exploring multi-year access to support long term initiatives through the current call. Over 5 calls, they have awarded allocations to over 100 proposals.

One possible area for collaboration is through the PRACE advanced training centres, as these need to be migrated to providing a core infrastructure service rather than relying on EC funding. Tuition in HPC is largely absent from university curricula. So far six have been created since 2012 in Spain, Italy, Finland, Scotland, Germany and France.

The European Grid Infrastructure is aiming to deliver an integrated service to the RIs in the European Research Area through a one -stop service point. Steven Newhouse warned us that financial challenges remain – there is a tension between funding infrastructure vs research and research budgets are under more pressure than ever. However, we need to keep reminding funders that you can’t achieve exciting innovation in research without funding the underlying infrastructure.

EGI’ s proposal is to integrate governance across grid, cloud and data through a digital research infrastructure ERIC.  An ERIC is an organisational structure that combines national funding into a European Research Infrastructure Collaboration. The next step along this route would be to encourage the e-infrastructures and potential member countries to engage and propose a preparatory phase project. Collaboration points could include community and coordination activities such as events, and preparation of the ERIC itself, plus interaction on the operational infrastructure platforms including core activities (accounting, monitoring), cloud (users deploy where they like)  and global services such as file transfer and help desks.

GÉANT provides a huge 50,000 km network infrastructure across 44 routes. Potentially this vast network serves 40 million users, with 8000 institutions connected in 40 countries in Europe and 62 outside Europe. Procurement is underway in southern and eastern Africa to build the network still further through an FP7 project. For Tom Fryor of DANTE, collaboration activities with PRACE include working on a coordinated approach to gathering user requirements. A Memorandum of Understanding is being prepared with EGI on user requirements, dissemination and security and Helix Nebula – the Science Cloud – is working on providing its networking requirements to GÉANT.

Atos is one of the cloud resource providers in Helix Nebula and they are working with other commercial partners, ESA, EMBL, CERN, EGI and others to provide a cloud computing infrastructure for the ERA, starting with a proof of concept. The project is working on policies for trust, security and privacy at an EU level, setting up a lightweight governance structure and concentrating on a short and medium term funding strategy. Their question is how to interact with data service providers in EUDAT. What is the role of public cloud providers in a potential European science cloud infrastructure and will the technology generated by EUDAT be available outside?

Maurice Bouwhuis of EUDAT summed up some ways and means for e-infrastructure collaboration. Sharing is the key of course, both information about tools, methods and policies but then to share the tools, methods and policies themselves (which perhaps answers the Helix Nebula question). EUDAT itself is planning to pick up on these elements from the existing e-infrastructures and hopes that the community can tackle problems together through co-development and an integrated infrastructure. There are already top level collaborations in place with EGI through the Nagios monitoring tool and the GOCDB  service registry – both of these are tried and tested. Grass roots collaborations are also bubbling up through the MAPPER project and through workshops at the various annual meetings of EGI and PRACE. Together, we need to focus particularly on the needs of communities that use more than one infrastructure – a seamless, simple,  e-infrastructure experience for everyone. Brothers (and sisters!) in arms it is.

No comments: