Three days in Prague gaining insight and ideas for future research infrastructures
The RAMIRI project (http://www.ramiri.eu/) has just launched the second series of learning workshops for those involved in establishing or running research infrastructures (RIs) in Europe. RAMIRI stands for Realising and Managing International Research Infrastructures and the project has a vision of fostering knowledge transfer, network building and the capture of best practice. The widely distributed nature of the European Grid infrastructure represents a new departure for research infrastructures which traditionally have been either single sites or locally distributed. Consequently, I found myself in Prague rubbing shoulders with people running synchrotrons, radar stations, laser facilities and telescope arrays. Participants had arrived from many corners of Europe and represented many professions and career paths from psychologists and lawyers to project managers and linguists. The common interest was the challenge of planning and running international organizational structures to manage large and advanced research facilities be they physical Research Infrastructures or e-Infrastructures like EGI.
This three day event marked the second phase of the RAMIRI project’s learning programme but provided a useful degree of continuity through the presence of two alumni from the inaugural phase. The three day course is structured around a series of talks and discussions which include exercises to challenge the participants to work through some typical scenarios that would have to be faced in establishing a new international facility for example. There is a longer term goal to attempt to capture some best practices but it soon became very clear that a large part of these challenges requires original thinking. Another of the strengths of RAMIRI is the judicious mix of skill sets and experience present. Highly experienced managers from well-established RIs participated in the break out groups and spoke about their own experience which was both beneficial and welcome. These included Catherine Stuck, former Head of Personnel at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) in Grenoble and Michel van der Rest former Director General of the SOLEIL Synchrotron and also a former Director of the Institut de Biologie Structurale. The local hosts in Prague did an excellent job in running a packed programme which also managed to contain visits to one of the oldest types of data centre, the Baroque library at the Strahov Monastery, as well as some of the newest in the form of the "PALS" laser facility and the plasma-producing "COMPASS-D" tokamak, where temperatures of 200 million degrees are measured – an order of magnitude hotter than the sun.
Many of the future RIs are being planned and constructed through the broad collection of ESFRI roadmap projects being supported by the EC. ESFRI stands for European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures and many of these projects are now starting to emerge as fledgling organisations. Consequently, this is an excellent time for the new recruits to swap stories and learn from each other and their predecessors. A number of these new organisations are contemplating following in the footsteps of SHARE (Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe) and CLARIN (language resources) in adopting the new EU-supported ERIC structure for cross-border European organisations. Harry Tuinder, a legal advisor from the European Commission, was present for the full duration of the meeting to offer insight and advice where this was applicable to the discussions.
From EGI’s perspective I was pleased to be able to gain valuable insight into many of the emerging ESFRI projects and hear firsthand from the first wave of staff about their priorities and immediate needs. EGI seeks to support these new infrastuctures with their distributed computing needs based on our own infrastructure of distributed computing power and associated services for managing, monitoring and virtualising these resources. The common denominator across all of these new deep sea scanners, radar stations and plasma chambers is typically the production of huge amounts of measurement data which needs to be captured, distributed and preserved for further analysis.
The social networking focus of RAMIRI resonates with the networking aspect of EGI. EGI is a federation of national coordinating bodies and therefore the social grid that this creates is as important as the computing grid that predicated its existence. Just as RAMIRI is creating a vibrant network of business administrators across the ESFRI projects and other infrastructures, so EGI represents a vibrant network of real individuals running real resources across Europe. Many years of experience go into keeping the grid network alive and this framework is growing as more communities see the benefit of collaborating with EGI’s expertise and resources.
The second half of this RAMIRI course will take place at the Sincrotrone Trieste towards the end of June. Participants will have had the opportunity to test out the lessons learnt and will arrive with a fresh set of new questions ready for the next set of challenges.