Italy has come a long way since the proposal to develop an e-infrastructure was first submitted to the National Institute of Nuclear Physics (INFN) at the end of 1999. A little over ten years later, the Italian Grid Infrastructure (IGI) connects its users to 25,000 computer cores and 30 Petabytes of storage resources distributed across 58 sites throughout Italy.
Now IGI is packing its bags to go to New Orleans for SC 2010, one of the largest supercomputing events in the world, where they will showcase “the most recent achievements in Italy and develop partnerships with other institutions or industries working in the field,” says Mirco Mazzucato, INFN Grid Project Manager since 2000.
At the start of the project, the main goal was to develop grid technology as a promising solution to tackle the deluge of data pouring out of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). As the decade progressed, the benefits of distributed computing became clear to other fields of science as well.
IGI is a Joint Research Unit grounded on a Memorandum of Understanding signed in December 2007, and supported by the Italian Ministry for University and Research and the European Commission. Its 17 members include the INFN, the National Research Council (CNR), the National Institute of Astrophysics (INAF) and four universities.
The Italian grid supports about 1100 users and 49 virtual organisations operating mainly in the high energy physics field, but with an significant proportion of computational chemists, biologists, earth scientists and others. Mazzucato believes that the widespread interest in grid computing “is mainly due to the early pioneering adoption of grid e-infrastructures in Italy back to the early 2000s.”
“Once this happened the advantages in terms of efficiency in sharing computing and data have been so large that it has become the standard computing model,” Mazzucato adds.
IGI provides its users with the complete set of services and support required to keep the sites operating efficiently for the benefit of research activities. Services include middleware releases customised for Italian applications, all services provided in Regional Operations Centres, accounting, monitoring of sites, as well as certification and user authentication, authorisation and identification (AAI).
Over the past decade, “IGI has developed many of the grid middleware components included in the gLite release and currently supported within EMI,” says Mazzucato. These include the Workload Management Service (WMS), the Virtual Organisation Membership Service (VOMS), the GLUE Schema, the execution service CREAM-CE and CEmon, the Grid Accounting Service DGAS, the ARGUS authorization framework and StoRM, an Storage Resource Management interface to file systems.
They are now looking forward to the next step. IGI aims to become a fully-fledged legal entity, able to provide long-term jobs for its staff. The move would contribute to an improvement of the services offered to the research sector, as well as to the expansion of grid and cloud computing that general e-Government needs, argues Mazzucato.