10 Dec 2018   |   News

Keeping up with the Cloud

New Science|Business paper on how Europe can meet fast rising scientific demand for data storage and processing calls for a long-term strategy

As it opens up scientific data and tools to millions of researchers, Europe’s new science cloud initiative is set to drive a step change in demand for computing and connectivity resources. Meeting that demand could be a challenge for Europe, which lags China and the US in the development of the supercomputers required to conduct the extremely complex modelling required by some scientific disciplines.

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But a new paper published by Science|Business argues that Europe should prioritise software development over the deployment of hardware, given the urgent need to bridge different scientific disciplines using appropriate middleware. Such middleware would enable interoperability between the many computing and data silos within the European scientific community helping the European Open Science Cloud (EOSC) achieve its goal of fuelling inter-disciplinary research.

Still, the paper recognises that Europe needs to develop greater expertise in hardware in the longer term: Hardware and software tend to develop hand-in-hand: early access to advanced hardware would help software developers create better tools for scientists.  Indeed, the paper argues that Europe needs a broad, long-term strategy to improve its computer science, centred on better education, particularly in physics, mathematics, programming and data analytics.

Despite Europe’s relatively weak IT industry, there may be opportunities for the region to lead the world in some areas of data-driven scientific research. In an age of rising nationalism and protectionism, the paper argues that multi-lateral Europe could coordinate global science. As it adapts to the requirement of the new EU General Data Protection Regulation, European science could also become a leader in the development of research techniques and processes that safeguard individuals’ privacy, while enabling social scientists to better understand human behaviour.

Expert group consultations

The paper is the product of meetings of our Cloud Consultation Group, a gathering of members of the Science|Business university-industry network with a special interest in the science cloud. They include experts from ETH-Zurich, CERN, Microsoft, Google and others. While drawing on the members’ expertise, the resultant paper is ultimately a statement of Science|Business and does not necessarily reflect the views of individual members.

Noting that governments can’t generally move quickly enough to scale ICT infrastructure, the paper argues that Europe’s policymakers should focus on the demand-side of the equation, rather than the supply side. For example, Europe should look to extend its lead in scientific fields, where it already has a head start, such as tackling climate change and modelling extreme weather. Rising demand for supercomputing in these fields should stimulate the private sector to make the necessary ICT infrastructure available.

More broadly, the paper recommends the EOSC’s rules of engagement balance the need to ensure users of the science cloud can harness advanced cloud computing services with the need to ensure the research community does not become overly reliant on a single provider or even single third country (such as the US) to meet its infrastructure needs.

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