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Feature - Project profile: ESFRI

Feature - Project profile: ESFRI

Image courtesy GridTalk

So, just what is ESFRI?

The European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures (ESFRI) is a European Commission initiative whose role is to guide policymaking on Research Infrastructures (RIs) in Europe. ESFRI projects span social and biomedical sciences, earth and physical sciences, energy, infrastructures and analytical facilities.

The ESFRI projects are detailed in the ESFRI Roadmap, which was last updated in 2008. A new version of this document is due to be released in 2010 and will include also input from the e-Infrastructure Reflection Group (e-IRG), a body which defines and recommends best practices for pan-European e-Infrastructure efforts.

But with such wide scope and vision, the ESFRI projects will place large demands on the storage, processing and networking services of Europe's e-Infrastructures.

To address this, the European e-Infrastructure Forum (EEF) has released a report addressing the future requirements of ESFRI projects and outlining the services and resources that the e-Infrastructure community can offer them. Members of the EEF include grids (EGI); supercomputing (DEISA and PRACE) and networking (Terena and GÉANT).

The resulting report, released in April 2010, aims to tailor EEF services to the ESFRI projects' needs. By working together, the EEF hopes to avoid parallel e-infrastructures being set up without connection to existing or planned investments.

Bob Jones, chairman of EEF: "This EEF report is just the first step. Now, through a combined effort of the existing e-infrastructures, ESFRI and collaborating projects, we have to build a seamless ecosystem to serve Europe's research communities."

As the ESFRI projects span such a wide range of research, their requirements vary according to sector. The social sciences and humanities, for example, often deal with sensitive data, such as that collected by the European Social Survey, which monitors the changing attitudes, beliefs and behaviors of people in over 30 countries. Therefore, fine-grained authentication and authorization systems are key, so that data is only shared with trusted users. Education and training on how to use e-Infrastructures and associated technologies, single sign-on functionality and long-term means of identifying data (called Persistent Identifiers) are also important to this community.

The ESFRI project known as IAGOS (In-service Aircraft for a Global Observing System) measures atmospheric composition by installing scientific instruments on commercial aircraft. Its database can be used for weather prediction, air quality forecasting and in climate and carbon cycle models. Image courtesy stock.xchng

A wide scope

For the environmental sciences ESFRI projects, the focus is on monitoring and measuring climate, ecological, atmosphere, earth and ocean systems. Projects in this sector include IAGOS which measures atmospheric composition by installing scientific instruments on commercial aircraft. The resulting database can be used for weather prediction, air quality forecasting and in climate and carbon cycle models. As a result, real-time collection and processing of data is high on the agenda for ESFRI projects in this sector.

The biomedical sciences, on the other hand, face a different challenge. "Research in these areas is generating vast quantities of data about biological molecules that need to be curated, archived, interpreted and made available to researchers across the life sciences and medicine," says Janet Thornton, of the ELIXIR project.

ELIXIR is building a distributed but interlinked collection of biological data resources and literature for use in the life sciences as well as related research in medicine and the environment, the bio-industries and society. The large amounts of data being generated by the biomedical sciences will require well structured databases, so developing distributed infrastructures to store, curate and provide global access to such data is key.

Despite their differences, a majority of ESFRI projects have stated the need to make use of existing European e-infrastructures. It then seems that improving interoperability between these structures will be beneficial for all user communities. "The EEF report has identified some of the critical functional building blocks needed by the ESFRI projects to accelerate their adoption of European e-Infrastructure," said Steven Newhouse, director of EGI.eu, an EEF member.

"This will help the European e-Infrastructure providers prioritise their joint activities, aiming to provide an integrated e-Infrastructure for the European Research Area," he commented. The areas highlighted by the EFF include technology, user and policy requirements.

What does seem clear is the need to work together to ensure Europe's e-Infrastructures can provide researchers with the tools that they need to deliver innovative and creative research in the future. "ELIXIR is constructing a [life science] infrastructure across Europe to ensure that Europe remains at the forefront of science in this vital area," says Thornton. "Clearly this will only be possible with the cooperation of the European e-Infrastructure providers and we are already working with members of the EEF to ensure that this happens."

-Manisha Lalloo, GridTalk. More on ESFRI is available in the newly released GridBriefing on GridTalk.

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