ICT infrastructures for e-science
The performance of information technology is constantly improving in terms of computation capacity, storage capacity and network speed. This generates new needs in terms of e-Infrastructures. It is now, therefore, essential to adapt ICTs to each phase of the scientific process. Investment in e-Infrastructures represents an opportunity to develop growth and employment, as well as to bring about a new scientific renaissance.
Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions - ICT infrastructures for e-science [COM(2009) 108 final – Not published in the Official Journal].
This Communication aims at developing the infrastructure of information and communication technologies (ICTs), also known as “e-Infrastructures”, in the area of e-science.
The potential of e-Infrastructures
The performance of information technology is constantly improving with regard to computation capacity, storage capacity and network speed. It allows new needs to be met in terms of modelling and simulation in sectors such as research into climate change or targeted healthcare but generates problems when designing e-Infrastructures.
It is therefore necessary to adopt ICTs to each phase of the scientific process, so that researchers can work together efficiently. This adoption will also allow the scope of research to be extended, which should generate, in the long term, a scientific renaissance and contribute to the success of the Lisbon strategy for growth and jobs.
The current position of e-Infrastructures
The European Commission’s Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development has promoted the development and deployment of e-Infrastructures, in order to strengthen scientific excellence, and to promote innovation and industrial competitiveness.
GEANT is the world’s largest multi-gigabit communication network for researchers and educators. In Europe, GEANT is widely used and connects 34 National Research and Education Networks (NRENs).
E-science grids (devoted to subjects such as high-energy physics and bioinformatics) are also present in Europe, in particular through EGEE which operates a multi-disciplinary grid with over 80 000 computers on 300 sites in 50 countries worldwide.
Scientific data necessitates new tools and methods. Projects are being developed in Europe so that all scientific content resources are accessible through e-Infrastructure services.
A new supercomputer infrastructure has been identified by ESFRI as a priority to improve European scientific performance and meet socio-economic challenges. The combined action of Member States and the Commission will generate the creation of PRACE, a new European e-Infrastructure dedicated to high-performance computing.
Global Virtual Research Communities are growing fast, which is opening up new perspectives for collaboration in the field of research on a worldwide scale.
European strategy for e-Infrastructures
The Commission proposes a renewed strategy to meet the challenges of e-science for 2020 and beyond. Three interrelated vectors are key to this strategy:
- attaining worldwide leadership in e-science;
- establishing e-Infrastructures;
- exploiting these e-Infrastructures in order to promote innovation.
GEANT must continue to increase its performance in collaboration with NRENs, so as to facilitate access to resources and equipment for researchers, educators and students. Both developed and developing regions must be covered. In this regard, Member States must prioritise the use of GEANT as an experimental platform.
Industry is to be invited to use European e-Science grids. To this end, Member States must develop National Grid Initiatives (NGIs). The European Commission plans to facilitate interaction between European e-Science grids and global grids.
Access to scientific information must be improved by developing data-centric science. Member States thus have a duty to invest in the field of scientific data infrastructures and exchange best practice.
A new generation of supercomputing facilities must be implemented. The European Union must comply with the ESFRI objectives which aim to achieve peta-flop performance by 2010 and move towards exa-scale computing in 2020. Research and development in software and hardware must therefore be intensified so as to implement supercomputers. The preparatory work carried out by PRACE is a starting point for Member States that are also invited to invest in associated research fields. In the mid-term, the Commission will prepare a European scientific agenda in the field of supercomputing, covering the components, systems, software and services required.
Member States are also requested to fully exploit infrastructures to serve science and research. The objective is to host global virtual research communities.
A new vision for the European Research Area based on the free movement of knowledge (the “fifth freedom”) was defined at the 2008 Ljubljana Council meeting. Moreover, the Aho Report of May 2008 highlighted the importance of developing infrastructures that would allow e-science to be disseminated. This indeed represents a new scientific revolution. It is essential for the European Union to be at the cutting edge of innovation in this field.