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< Contents ERCIM News No. 59, October 2004

Grids: A Crucial Technology for Science and Industry

by Fabio Colasanti
Director-General European Commission
Directorate-General for "Information Society"

Fabio ColasantiGrids are an emerging technology that promises to change the lives of individuals, organisations and society as profoundly as e-mail and the Web have done in the past decade. It is perhaps not surprising that the first Grids were developed for the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN), the particle physics laboratory that gave us the World Wide Web.

By providing everyone with the high-performance computing and knowledge capabilities previously available only to the largest corporations and laboratories, Grids have an immense potential to underpin sustainable growth by improving the competitiveness of existing industries and by helping usher in new markets and services previously thought impossible. It is expected that their impact on our quality of life will be profound, allowing us to monitor and model more successfully everything from global climate change to the way cars behave in collisions.

Grids are both a crucial enabling technology for reaching the 'Lisbon strategy', set in spring 2000, of transforming the European Union into the most competitive, knowledge-based economy in the world by the year 2010, as well a fundamental building block in the realisation of the European Research Area (ERA).

In light of this significant potential, the European Commission has been financing Grid research since early 2000, when the first EU-funded projects were launched under the Fifth Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development (FP5). The Grid research projects under FP5 were focused on both technology development and application pilots. In FP6 (2002-2006) a new technology-driven approach to Grid research is being pursued by the European Commission, substantiated by the longer-term vision of 'Next Generation Grids' ( Research challenges to be addressed for the realisation of this vision include the conceptualisation and/or development of 'network-centric Grid operating systems' as new or enhanced fabrics for future distributed systems and services, scale-free, adaptive and dependable Grid architectures and middleware required to realise the 'invisible Grid' vision. In addition, research will address new or enhanced Grids service middleware empowering individuals and organisations to create, provide and use a variety of services, anytime, anywhere, in a transparent and cost-effective way.

A complementary building block to Grid Technology research are EU-funded activities in the area of 'Research Infrastructures' which include the deployment and testing of Grids over GEANT, the world's most powerful research network which links over 3 000 research institutions across Europe.

The budget for Grid Technology research in FP6 is more than double that in FP5 - a clear demonstration of the field's strategic importance. The first 12 FP6 IST Grid research projects launched in summer 2004 with total EU funding of 52M€ will create a 'critical mass' of expertise and resources from across Europe. Ambitious in their scope, they aim to deliver, inter alia, new Grid architectures by the end of the decade, to develop generic Grid technologies and to advance significantly our capabilties in vital areas such as security, business models, data integration, programming models, collaboration and knowledge discovery.

One of the largest projects in the portfolio just launched - the Network of Excellence CoreGRID - addresses longer term Grid research and will play an essential role in creating the foundations for next generation Grids. The European Research Consortium for Informatics and Mathematics, ERCIM, leads this significant endeavour. The action will bring together existing, but fragmented, Grid research communities. By doing so it will strive for durable excellence, integration and co-operation in Grid research across Europe, thus contributing to the creation of a European Research Area for Grids.

Considering the significant and sustained European investment in Grid research, Europe’s strengths in this area are well established. The challenge is now to create more effective routes for industrial exploitation in order to translate successfully research results into economic benefits. For Europe to capitalise better on its strengths, it is indispensable that collaboration between research organisations, funding bodies and industry at all levels of the value chain and across national borders is reinforced.

More integrated, long-term research visions and effective plans for their implementation need to be established, taking into account industrial needs and commercial ambitions. This will be essential for reaping benefits from the promising area of Grid research, paving the way towards the provision of Grid, software and knowledge services as a utility.

Fabio Colasanti