September 18, 2012
The reports of grid's demise have been greatly exaggerated. There's a common phrase used in some circles of the high-end computing community, which is that "cloud is grid done right" with the idea that grid computing has been overwhelmingly supplanted by cloud computing. While there are kernels of truth to these memes, they sacrifice the more complex reality for pithiness.
The continuing relevance of grid was abundantly clear at the European Grid Infrastructure's 2012 Technical Forum, taking place this week in Prague. This popular tourist destination is the capital city of the Czech Republic and center of historic Bohemia – home to such winding and narrow streets that it makes another rambling-laned city, Boston, appear as a "grid" by comparison.
It is true the scientific community, along with the rest of the world, is looking to cloud for its elasticity, scalability, the illusion of infinite resources, as well as its billing functionality – characteristics that grid traditionally lacks – but there are serious challenges in shoehorning cloud to meet the needs of the research community – chief among these concerns is a lack of interoperability between cloud providers, i.e., a lack of federation.
Cloud's biggest weakness happens to be grid's greatest strength, which is that despite being a collection of resources, it functions as a unified resource. So grid is very much relevant to science, and the discovery of the Higgs boson-like particle at CERN on July 4, 2012, has given grid a bit of a branding boost in the larger community. While the subject has already received much attention here and in other publications, it's a statement that bears repeating. The exciting and possibly paradigm-changing breakthrough was powered by the grid. EGI along with the the Open Science Grid and other Worldwide Large Hadron Collider Computing Grid (WLCG) partners were an instrumental part of this historic achievement.
This positive developments at CERN have reflected well on the European grid community and their partners. On Monday, GlobusEUROPE, which was colocated with EGI Technical Forum, took over the conference center at the Hotel Clarion Congress, located in Vysocany, a modern section of the city, just 15 minutes away from the historic center of Prague and the famous Prague Castle. The remainder of the week, Tuesday through Friday, is dedicated to the European Grid Infrastructure Technical Forum.
Globus Promotes Research-as-a-Service
GlobusEUROPE, now in its second year, is organized by the Initiative for Globus in Europe (IGE). It's the European counterpart to the US-based Globus event, GlobusWORLD, which just celebrated its 10-year anniversary in April. On hand to represent Globus and the Globus Alliance was Steve Tuecke, cofounder and PI for the Globus Project and Deputy Director at The University of Chicago's Computation Institute (CI). Globus maintains the Globus Toolkit and a growing selection of cloud-based research services, aimed at simplifying the research process. While GlobusEUROPE covers general Globus news and announcements, the event is uniquely concerned with the needs of the European audience.
This year's GlobusWORLD agenda began with a welcome message from IGE Project Manager Helmut Heller. Heller welcomed the attendees to Prague and laid out the day's agenda. The presentations were full of engaging discussion on the subjects of grid and cloud and the importance of funding and getting resources to the researchers who need them.
Steve Tuecke delivered the opening keynote by giving an update on Globus. He began by reminding the packed room of the motivation behind Globus, which is to simplify the research process, especially for the underserved research community, aka "the rest of us." Tuecke sees that cloud has completely remade the commercial world, and believes the research community should be able to access the same benefits. With a "mission to bring advanced research applications to the research world via the cloud," Globus has been doggedly building out a suite of services, starting with Globus Transfer – known for its online version Globus Online.
The biggest Globus announcement for this mainly European audience is the launching of a European version of GlobusOnline – globusonline.eu – created with the help of EGI and IGE. The site is expected to go live within the next 2-3 days. Tuecke points out that achieving a base level of compliance with various EU privacy laws has not been an easy task. The EU Cookie law is cited as just one example of this difficult process. Responding to an audience question, the Globus PI explained that in the first release, users will not be able to avoid sending data to the US, where it will touch Amazon servers, but they have plans for a non-US version. Tuecke adds that the actual files don't leave the EU, only the operational data.
Globus is also working on another cloud-based service called Globus Storage, which can be thought of as a Dropbox for research - this is in pilot right now with about a half-dozen test users. A key feature is that resource providers can plug their storage into the back-end to add further capability.
Tuecke next discusses a pre-alpha system called Globus Catalog that helps to manage and define data sets. Globus Collaborate is another service in the works, one that can be compared to Google Sites. This Drupal-based environment uses templates to make it easy for researchers to create basic project websites for both internal and external use. A platform called Globus Integrate helps users build their own tools. The last two pieces are Nexus, a set of tools for managing federated identities, and Group Management, an end-user focused tool that allows researchers to define their own groups and manage their admission policies. Globus is in the process of building up all of these services to production level and will be giving another progress update at SC12 in Salt Lake City, Utah, in November.
EGI Technical Forum - Day One
The EGI Technical Forum kicked off today with a mandate to promote "the development of an open and sustainable EGI ecosystem that will support Open Science in the digital European Research Area."
The conference, which is being hosted by EGI.eu along with CESNET, the consortium of Czech universities and the Czech Academy of Science, started with three excellent keynotes, as part of a plenary session that was moderated by Ludek Matyska.
Given that IBM was this year's platinum sponsor, it was natural that IBM Executive Sales Leader, IT Infrastructure Optimization Leah Parks opened the meeting. Parks gave an interesting talk about the work that IBM is doing to "build a smarter planet." She also shared some details about IBM's progress with integrating the middleware acquired in the Platform Computing deal. The company is working toward a large-scale, multi-tenant grid that enables both compute and data intensive apps.
The next keynote speaker was European Commission Project Officer Luis Pérez Busquets. He gave a moving speech about the "the deep economic crisis, which is ruining the lives of many European citizens." He spoke about the work of the HelixNebula Science Cloud and noted that it is a preliminary step to creating a larger European cloud-based infrastructure.
In response to an audience question about the trade-off between centralization and fault tolerance, Busquets stated, "We don't favor the emergence of monopolies – we love competition – we want the solution that is most effective to prevail...We cannot just give funding to one partner, but must give to more than one."
Last up was Steven Newhouse, who had also given a keynote as part of the previous day's agenda, covering EGI News. The program literature summarizes the talk thusly:
As EGI-InSPIRE approaches its last 18 months, the presentation will reflect on the developments of the last 6 months and examine how they will be shaping our activity in Horizon 2020 and beyond. The endorsement of the EGI 2020 strategy by the EGI Council provides a vision for the EGI community that extends beyond a single project and embraces the need for coordinated community activity that is being initiated through activities taking place this week.
"Coordinated community activity" is a recurring touchstone of this conference. There were reminders from Tuecke, Newhouse and others that the various "wishlist" items will not get off the ground without significant and consistent community involvement. Fulfilling community requests takes time, money and support, said the Globus PI during his Monday keynote, while the EGI Director urged participants to lobby their funding sources.
There was a hint of admonishment accompanying the calls to action. These project heads understand more than anyone that it's going to take the effort of many and achieving that critical mass can be a sisyphean task.
In his Tuesday keynote, Newhouse brings the message back around to the work at hand, enabling the research by empowering the researcher:
"In order to grow," he says "we need to find ways to support different diverse research environments and ultimately get to the point where each researcher and research community has the environment that they want to do their research rather than the one that was dictated to them."
HPC in the Cloud is in Prague all week covering GlobusEUROPE and the EGI Technical Forum, so if you see something on the program that you want to know more about, you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Dobrý den!
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