Interview - Kostas Glinos peers into his crystal ball
Kostas Glinos is a member of the European Commission's Directorate-General for the Information Society and Media - and he just presented the European Grid Initiative with a 25-million euro contract in a brief ceremony onstage at the start of the EGI Technical Forum on 14 September. iSGTW caught up with him afterward, during a coffee break held in the middle of the poster session floor. We asked him about the significance of the EC's backing, his hopes for EGI, and his ideas as to what it all means for the future.
Glinos: EGI is the culmination of an effort over eight years to look for a sustainable, long-term commitment from European countries, supplemented by the European Commission (EC). Of a projected 73 million euro cost, 25 million is coming from the EC, with the rest from member states. We now have a setting, a legal organization, and a signed contract. It allows for service to continue, without any interruption, and to be optimistic about the future.
iSGTW: What do you look forward to seeing from EGI?
Glinos: In a nutshell, to bring together those who say "this is what we need" with those who say "this is what we have." That's the ideal interaction.
iSGTW: What do you see as the challenges for the organization?
Glinos: There's really four challenges:
• Provide all the distributed computing services Europe's researchers need, serving all users from all disciplines, such as biology, life sciences, social sciences, and physics, to name but a few.
• Use the best technology for its users, regardless of whether that technology be grid computing, cloud computing, or otherwise.
• Find appropriate governance and financial models.
• Determine how to involve users, and to what extent. And it has to strike the right balance between the different needs of different users; some may want more cutting-edge technologies while others desire more of a production-level. Ideally, you have both simultaneously, but things are bound to lean in one direction or another.
iSGTW: How do virtual research communities fit into this?
Glinos: Virtual communities are primary clients and focal points for deploying EGI's services.
I also want to point out that enabling different research communities to hook up to the processing capacity of existing computers could also lead to major cost and energy savings. In the next decade or so, Europe may invest more than 2 billion euros in the ICT part of new scientific research infrastructures for physical sciences and engineering, energy, environmental sciences, biological and medical sciences, social sciences and humanities, and materials and analytical facilities.
Significant savings could be made if researchers at these facilities use the processing power available via EGI and other e-infrastructures, rather than developing their own alternative networks or supercomputers. EGI may also be used to test various cloud-based technologies and services.
Something like EGI shows what we can do when you have the right institutions and people and states working together; we have 35 countries involved. EGI will integrate the developments from all the players, such as projects like EMI or IGE, for example.
iSGTW: What do you see the innovations from EGI leading to in the Framework Program 8 - the next seven-year plan?
Glinos: FP8 starts in 2014 and runs through the end of 2020. What I expect is that EGI will mature, increase its base, increase its quality of service, and be in a position to guarantee a certain level of service.
Secondly, at the moment, a user has to go through many hoops. You have to subscribe, be a member, go through a series of steps, complete weeks of training, and deal with issues of authorization and authentication.
My vision, or hope, is that you won't have to do all this in the future and that eventually it will all become seamless to the user.
I think the best thing to compare it to is building a house - you don't need to build your own electrical generating plant in order to have electricity in your home. Nor do you need to build your own water treatment plant. Instead, you just sign up for existing services, rather than doing it all yourself, and focus purely on the actual house itself.
iSGTW: Any other comments you would like to make?
Glinos: We should at least take a good look at how to integrate the private sector into the financing for all this. There may be alternatives to asking the government for money; perhaps there could be alliances with private companies, public/private partnerships, or some form of pay-per-use at some level.
After all, why buy a server when someone else already has space available on an existing one?
iSGTW: Anything else?
Glinos: There's an avalanche of data out there and we have to figure out how to make it accessible, valid, understandable, trustworthy, open - and how to give credit where credit is due when the data is used. As it is now, some researchers hesitate to share data with "competitors," who may use it to be first in a peer-reviewed publication, or even attack the researcher's conclusions. Who gets authorship credit when the data is so easily accessible and diffuse?
We're just scratching the surface of these things. The legal and social aspects are also important and we are often paying little attention.
-Dan Drollette, iSGTW. The European Grid Infrastructure (EGI) includes in excess of 300 sites across 50 countries, offering about 240,000 processor cores, and more than 100 petabytes of tape and disk storage. For more information, see the EGI website.