EGI promises abundant computing power for all

The European Grid Initiative (EGI), a new organisation that will support the sustainable future development of leading-edge, collaborative scientific computing, has been established following the signing of legal documents in Amsterdam last month.

The EGI will supply the computing resources necessary for processing data from large-scale experiments, alongside an infrastructure that will be useful for many HPC users in the European scientific community. CERN's Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is chief among these experiments, due to the 15PB (15m gigabytes) of data the experiment is expected to produce annually, once up and running.

The UK's contribution to the EGI has been championed by the e-Science division of the Science & Technology Facilities Council (STFC), a body overseeing investment into the large scientific facilities and infrastructure used in the UK. Dr Neil Geddes, the STFC's director of e-Science, told Scientific Computing World that 'the purpose of the EGI is to provide services and coordination allowing academic researchers, internationally, but with a focus on Europe, to collaborate and share their computer resources. From STFC's perspective, the project was driven by a desire to develop a system that could support large scale distributed collaboration on the Large Hadron Collider.' Geddes added that the STFC's involvement also relates to its role in maintain the 'LHC Tier-1' supercomputer at the Rutherford Appleton site, which will form an important part of the EGI's resources.

Despite the current interest in processing the LHC's results, Geddes was quick to point out that the scope of the initiative is not limited to high energy physics: 'The EGI tends to work in generic ways,' he said. 'The systems that have been built are not limited to use by the [CERN] physicists, but rather they also support distributed collaborative computing in a generic sense. We at STFC support the users of all the large facilities that we run, such as the large neutron sources and synchrotrons. Commonality, and an integrated way of being able to [analyse data] through standard interfaces, both at the [national facilities] and back at the researchers' own institutions, is an agenda that we support.'

'Particle physicists are already a well-organised international community,' he continued, 'but there is a massive and increasing demand within the life sciences, to support genome sequencing, for example. That's a community whose primary interest is in biology, not in "techy-geeky" stuff, but having established an integrated, coordinated system across Europe, the idea is that we can now reach into those communities and provide services that are of value to them.'

The STFC is not the only group backing the integrated approach to collaborative computing and data analysis: 'The wider UK research community think that this is generally a good idea, and so we're supported by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), and by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE),' Geddes points out. The UK National Grid Service (NGS) is supported by these two bodies, and will feed directly into the European Grid.

The EGI is the latest in a series of grid computing projects funded by the European Commission, including the European Data Grid, and three 'Enabling Grids for E-sciencE' (EGEE) projects, all of which were coordinated by CERN. The third and final EGEE project has now come to an end, and the EGI is envisioned as its permanent successor, able to provide abundant, high-quality computing support for many years to come. The project is organised and administrated from dedicated headquarters in Amsterdam.

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