Opinion - EUAsia Grid makes a virtue of diversity
EUAsiaGrid, a two-year project to promote grid awareness in South-East Asia, is entering its final phase. Time to take stock of some of the unique aspects of running such a geographically and culturally diverse grid project, and the opportunities it has created for closer scientific collaboration.
More than half the world lives in Asia.
Even putting aside the two titans of India and China, there are some 600 million inhabitants - 100 million more than the entire EU - in the region commonly referred to as South-East Asia, which stretches nearly twice the width of the continental United States from Burma in the West to Indonesia's Papua province in the East.
Most of the Asian partners in EUAsiaGrid are from areas prone to natural disasters such as earthquakes, volcanoes, typhoons and tsunamis.
Despite the challenging circumstances, EUAsiaGrid has managed to make a significant impact in a relatively short time. Partly this impact has been technological, thanks to increased sharing of data storage and processing power between participating institutions in the region. This has happened through a concerted effort by the project to encourage adoption of EGEE's gLite middleware in the region.
As Marco Paganoni, who heads EUAsiaGrid and is based at INFN and University of Milan-Bicocca, points out, "this technological push has enabled researchers in some of the participating countries to become involved in international science initiatives like CERN's LHC, that they otherwise might not be able to afford to participate in."
The project has had many regional research benefits, too. "We realized that identifying and addressing local needs was the key to success in this region," says Paganoni.
From the outset, capturing local e-Science requirements was an important component of the project's objectives. And comparing those requirements revealed a great deal of common ground amidst all the regional diversity.
The region's propensity to natural disaster, and the ability of grid technology and related IT solutions to help mitigate the consequences of such disasters, was one common theme.
For example, EUAsiaGrid researchers have helped to build links between different national sensor networks, such as those of Vietnam and Indonesia. Researchers in the Philippines are now benefitting from grid-based seismic modeling experience of partners in Taiwan. Sharing data and grid know-how like this means that scientists involved can better tune local models of earthquake and tsunami propagation.
Another common thread of the research sponsored by EUAsiaGrid has been searching for cures to diseases that plague the entire region, such as dengue fever. A series of in-silico drug design challenges, achieved by pooling regional as well as European grid resources, have been a highly visible outcome of the project.
But it is not just hard sciences like geology and biology that benefit from grid know-how. Indeed as Paganoni notes, "modeling the social and economic impacts of major disasters and diseases is a grid computing challenge in itself, and is often top of the agenda when EUAsiaGrid researchers have discussions with government representatives in the region."
An important legacy of the EUAsiaGrid project, reckons Paganoni, will be the links it has helped establish between researchers in the natural sciences and the social sciences, both within the region and with European institutions. These links trace their origin to a common interest in exploiting grid technology.
-François Grey, for EUAsia Grid