The ESFRI list will be updated in 2015-16 and end up to present some tens of major European Research Infrastructures with a high priority and commitment from a number of European countries to drive these RIs to their target. In addition we have a large amount of existing RIs in European level and even more in national level. Altogether this means hundreds of RIs in different areas, from physics experiments to social sciences and humanities – and everything in between.
Think about a scenario, if all these Research Infrastructures would establish their own ICT systems, incompatible and independent of each other. We would not only be wasting a huge amount of resources and re-inventing the wheel for a few hundred times, but also run out of competent people to provide data management services or parallelize code for supercomputers or to develop and run many other services.
How could we avoid this? Horizon2020 program continues the investments from FP7 to RIs and excellence in research. The outcome will be much better in case we can collaborate between researchers and those who provide e-infrastructure and related ICT services, for example national centers or commercial companies. We can do this much more efficiently than today, but it needs something very important – much more trust between different stakeholders. Will the researchers trust that e-infrastructure providers can help them and address their problem instead of only looking after interesting technical challenges? There is a long history with a lot of failures in this approach. Today things are shifting to a better direction, but still the trust needs to be earned through concrete actions.
Horizon2020 provides an excellent opportunity to address this challenge: how to build trust between research and ICT service providers. Some elements are already there, although more could be done. In FP7 already there were a few cluster projects where RIs close to each other worked together and identified common areas, namely CRISP, BioMedBridges, DASISH and ENVRI projects. However, we should go even much beyond what these excellent projects achieved and end up sharing e-infrastructure, services and competence in a much wider basis. The more we share the resources, the more cost efficient the services become – and also higher quality can be reached.
All of this is possible already today. There is no fundamental reason why a Research Infrastructure could not obtain their e-infrastructure from some national center or other service provider. But why is this not done, at least not much? If we want to share the workload optimally and let everyone to concentrate in what they can do best – for example researchers in research and e-infrastructure providers in running the ICT services – we need to build trust between each of them. If we technology providers remember to develop services in a user driven mode, it will help.
Building trust takes time. But we do not have much time, or at least the more time we waste, the bigger danger there is to duplicate efforts.
There is not probably a single wisdom how to fix it all, but at least some actions could be taken to go to the right direction. Here are a few suggestions for you to consider:
- Build projects where user communities and ICT people work together. The traditional way has been that number of supercomputing or other centers put together a project, develop services and then start to ‘sell’ it to the users. The problems start if users do not want to buy the service, or are already using something else. In case user communities are already partners in the EC funded project and participate in development of the services together with ICT providers, it is very likely that first of all the developed services will be used when ready, and in addition they are likely to be user friendly. One example of such approach is EUDAT (eudat.eu) and as a coordinator of this project I can conclude that it works. The experiences in building trust by working together are very encouraging.
- Find ways to bring user communities and technology providers together. There are many events suitable for this, but they tend to be populated by us usual suspects. The biggest impact can probably be made by helping a RI which has not been that much involved before. How do we find the potential beneficiaries of the future? E-infrastructure providers need to go where the users are and participate in their events, vice versa it can have less impact.
- Make the requirements and costs of ICT in Research Infrastructures visible. When the cost is visible and it can be measured, the benefits to do things together can also be shown in practical terms such as money. If you save in IT, maybe you can hire a few more researchers etc. Far too often one can hear comments such as it is cheap to run these systems ourselves since electricity costs nothing (= someone else pays).
- And finally, make the benefits of collaborating in ICT visible. If ten RIs share the same supercomputer, maybe ten time higher performance can be provided. Or if several groups of researchers need tools to manage their data, maybe it is worthwhile to develop those tools at the same time to all of them.
The challenge in building trust is not new to us. Also EC has recognized this and results can be seen in work programs. A lot of excellent work has been done by competent people when building these programs, but I would still like to see more calls where DG RTD (research) and DG Connect (e-infra) work together and this way more calls where clusters of user communities work together with ICT providers. The more we work together, the more we start to trust each other and the better results we will get. I am sure about this since everyone of us wants European research to succeed!
Managing Director, CSC – IT Center for Science
Coordinator of EUDAT and EUDAT2020 projects