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Pan-European programme calls for project bids

Venus-C, a pan-European programme designed to integrate cloud computing with European Research Grids for the benefit of the continent’s scientists and researchers, is about to announce an open call for project bids. Venus-C (Virtual multidisciplinary EnviroNments USing Cloud Infrastructures) is co-funded by the European Commission under the Framework Programme 7 – the EU’s primary programme for funding all research-related EU initiatives for the period of 2007-2013.

Its main objective is to demonstrate the feasibility and potential of a scientific cloud for Europe that is integrated with the existing European grid system. ‘The Venus-C project is one of the first attempts to prove that clouds and European Research Grids can interoperate, and to demonstrate the sustainability of the scientific clouds,’ said coordinator Andrea Manieri.

With strong emphasis placed on building a user community, the project aims to create, test and deploy an industry-quality, service-orientated platform based on virtualisation technologies, that is accessible by researchers across many disciplines, including biomedicine, civil engineering and data for science.

Following an initial development of the infrastructure and underlying platform, the Venus-C consortium of industrial partners and scientific user communities will soon be issuing an open call in order to broaden the application and geographical scope of the project. This will fund up to 20 new experiments designed to address the advanced and complex needs of the user communities, in some instances handling complex workflows and data-intensive scenarios. Helping to broaden inter-disciplinary scientific collaboration in Europe, generic application programming interfaces (APIs) and programming models will also be offered.

The fact that Microsoft is a major partner in, and initiator of, the Venus-C consortium indicates the level of attention being paid to developments in this area. The company’s contribution to the project is a substantial Windows Azure data and compute capability, as well as teams of researchers, including one based at the European Microsoft Innovation Centre in Germany.

‘Cloud computing can transform how research is conducted, allowing scientists around the world to explore and share rich, diverse multidisciplinary data sets with their own familiar desktop tools,’ said Dan Reed, corporate vice president, eXtreme Computing Group and Technology Strategy and Policy at Microsoft Corp.

Expert opinion on the future of these platforms has also been sought as part of the 7th Framework Programme. One report, The Future of Cloud Computing: Opportunities for European Cloud Computing Beyond 2010, was released in January 2010 and serves to outline the direction for research and development.

Highlighting that the principles of cloud infrastructures lead to multiple opportunities that will enable further types of applications, and reduced development and provisioning time of different services, the report recommends that the EC, together with Member States, set up the correct regulatory framework to facilitate the uptake of cloud computing.

Suggestions were also made that research efforts need to be directed into both the technological and commercial aspects of cloud computing, and that participation should be encouraged among business consultants, legal researchers and governmental bodies etc., with regard to the particular circumstances of cloud provisioning.

Venus-C is one of a number of advanced computing projects currently receiving funding as part of the European Commission’s 7th Framework Programme. Another, the Partnership for Advanced Computing in Europe (PRACE), disagrees that cloud is the future of high-performance computing and is instead focusing efforts on the implementation of supercomputers with a combined computing power in the multi Petaflop(s) range, and aims to achieve Exaflop capability within the next 10 years.

Deputy project manager Dietmar Erwin told Scientific Computing World: ‘The preparation and introduction of this infrastructure is being supported by the Commission and it will help European scientists and engineers, and eventually industry, by providing access to the level of resource needed to remain competitive. We have successfully completed the first phase and, as of April this year, PRACE exists as a legal entity and is already serving European scientists.’

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