Feature - Q&A: Grid Colombia warms up
With a little help from colleagues at Open Science Grid and EGEE (via EELA-2), Colombia is on the cusp of launching its first national grid infrastructure. iSGTW caught up with Jose Caballero to learn more about the present and future of this promising project. Caballero currently does software development for ATLAS, and serves as the OSG liaison to South America. Previously, he spent five years working with the gLite grid software for the CMS experiment.
iSGTW: How did Grid Colombia get started?
Caballero: EELA-2 (E-science grid facility for Europe and Latin America) chose Colombia to host one of its main conferences in 2008, and that brought the worldwide grid movement to the attention of both academia and government in Colombia.
After that, universities started to study the creation of a national grid infrastructure, seeing e-science and grid computing as important tools to foster their research activities.
With the support of EELA-2 they started setting up a Joint Research Unit with three universities involved. Later, there were seven institutions.
iSGTW: What is the current state of Grid Colombia?
Caballero: Grid Colombia is a very young project. The official starting date of the Grid Colombia project was 30 December 2009. The deployment starting date was 1 March 2010. The two OSG workshops have been part of the initial steps of the project, helpful not only to acquire some technical knowledge but also to spread the existence of the project to the scientific community and the media.
This has allowed the establishment of contacts with other institutions not originally involved in the project which are now contributing with human and material resources, as well as the consolidation of the national grid community. The confirmation of these new partners is expected by the end of March, increasing the number of cities involved by one and the number of institutions by between four and six.
The current granted project lasts one year. The goals for this year are to design, implement and deploy in production the first Colombian National Grid Infrastructure. The project is split into two steps of six months each. During the first phase the organizational and operative model will be design. During the second phase these models will be deployed and validated.
iSGTW: What other grids and organizations has Grid Colombia formed partnerships with? Why those ones? What do these partnerships each consist of?
Caballero: From the organizational point of view, the Grid Colombia project is part of the GISELA consortium, created by EELA-2 to develop and deploy an international grid infrastructure in Latin America based on already existing strong national infrastructures at country level.
At the level of infrastructure, Grid Colombia is funded by RENATA, the National Academic Network of Advanced Technology, which offers also specific calls for research projects using its network, and a number of Colombian universities.
In the future, I expect a closer relationship between Grid Colombia and OSG. Grid Colombia finds very helpful the support from OSG (including the workshops we have done, the mailing list we have created, etc.). OSG is very interested in collaborating with them, and we are working actively on that direction.
iSGTW: Are there barriers to interfacing with both OSG and EGEE (gLite)?
Caballero: In principle, there is no technical barrier. The same application working at the same time with both of them could be a problem. Other than that, there is no problem with having both middleware installed and working at the same site.
I think the future of Grid Colombia will be interfacing with both EGEE and OSG, but using the OSG philosophy for the consolidation of the national project.
iSGTW: If all goes well, what do you see in Grid Colombia's future?
Caballero: Grid Colombia is still a very young project, but extremely promising. It is clear to me the interest from both the funding agencies and academia on the possibilities of grid computing.
Currently, 11 universities (hosting more than 100,000 students and 5,000 faculty members) are involved in the creation of the National Grid Initiative.
There are many research areas of interest for the Colombian scientific community. The first group would be the High Energy Physics community (LHC in particular), which is already in collaboration with international groups.
Bioinformatics is the community with more potential to become great grid users. There is a national initiative, with international funds, to build up a bioinformatics center and in the last two years different projects have been developed to make it easier for biologist to take advantage of distributed systems.
Right now there are works in progress between COMIT (Communications and Information Technology) group and the LAMFU (Mycology and Plant Disease Lab) laboratory at Universidad de los Andes, and Cenicafe (National Research Center for Coffee) to work on coffee and other tropical plants' genome on distributed infrastructures. Other groups performing studies on natural resources, like oil, are also interested in the benefits of grid computing.
Colombia is one of the countries with the most biodiversity on Earth, so they are also interested in environment, climate, pollution, natural disasters and tropical disease applications. Medicine is another research topic with representation during the workshops, including analysis of images for cancer diagnosis, and the development of social health projects. Finally, there are also research groups on information technologies, interested in grid computing itself.
From my personal point of view, I see in Latin America (not only Colombia) a very interesting movement to use the grid computing technology for social projects. Biology, medicine, public health systems, culture, environment protection, etc. are projects where the society can see a more clear and immediate benefit. In the future I see an international Latin American grid infrastructure as a world leader in social and cultural projects.
-Miriam Boon, iSGTW