Grid Hailed as Key to EU Competitiveness

By By Derrick Harris, Editor

June 6, 2005

In a recent speech, Viviane Reding, a member of the European Commission's (EC) commission responsible for information society, spoke very openly and encouragingly about the value of Grid computing to the continent.

Reding commended CERN for its work on the World Wide Web and Grid computing, specifically its work in establishing the EGEE project, and said that Grid is now facing the same challenge that the Web did 15 years ago: to demonstrate that it can move beyond the realm of research and academia, and start showing benefits for business and society. However, she did not leave task to the folks at CERN, but instead called upon the EC and EU member nations to make it happen.

Reding stated that Grid will be a “crucial enabling technology” in achieving her i2010 (European Information Society 2010) initiative, which looks to promote cooperation between industry and Member States in order to achieve a borderless European information space, stimulate innovation, and make the European Information Society as inclusive, secure and accessible as possible.

When speaking about Europe's investment in information and communication technologies (ICT), Reding said, “The message is clear: Europe is not sufficiently investing in its future.” She was referring to Europe's 38 percent of private research spending being targeted at ICT versus the worldwide average of 60 percent. To meet this end, Reding called for Europe to step up its effort in this area to hit a mark of 3 percent of the European Union's gross domestic product by 2010.

She also said that the EC has requested a doubling of the research budget for the Seventh Framework Program. The proposed budget of more than 70 billion Euros over seven years is more than double that of the Sixth Framework Program in terms of annual budget.

Although the proposed budget is already a hefty sum, Reding believes its impact can be can be magnified by ensuring the coordination of European and national research programs.

Said Reding, “Despite having centers of excellence in all countries and research leadership in some areas, such as Grid technologies, the fragmentation of research activities in Europe represents a major handicap, in particular when compared to the U.S. and Japan.”

To resolve this problem, she suggested the creation of a “European Research Area (ERA) initiative designed to create an “internal market” in research and restructure the European research fabric. In the long run, she hopes such an initiative will lead to sustained collaboration among research programs and transnational programs funded by more than one country, among other things. Reding noted that the already initiated GridCoord project has gone along way toward meeting these goals already.

However, this investment in information and communication technologies cannot fall solely on the shoulders of the government, Reding said. “Industry, too, must very seriously increase its commitment to funding research.” Industry has been quite helpful on the Grid front already, and Reding called industry's steps to create a multi-national Grid platform an “encouraging sign.”

Speaking of Europe's thriving Grid community, Reding pointed out that while the continent is strong on research, commercial exploitation of Grid computing can still be strengthened.

“Put simply,” she said, “Grid technologies are at a turning point in their evolution for industry to step in and transform the world class research results into key services to drive European growth in the 21st century.”

Reding also commended the proposed technology platform on service-oriented architecture that is currently being discussed as “an appropriate response to the trends in the ICT market, which are seeing a shift from the sales of products toward the provision of on-demand services.” Grids, she said, are an excellent enabler of service-oriented knowledge utilities. However, she again stressed the importance to coordination between the research and industry sectors to make this a reality.

Finally, Reding spoke about the areas where Grids, although not fully mature, have made significant impacts. Among those she spoke about were the multimedia sector, where smaller businesses have been able to use Grid technologies to perform compute-intensive tasks that were previously out of their price ranges for the most part; and the automotive sector, where design, simulation and testing tools can be integrated into a Grid environment — leading to the production of safer, more reliable and higher quality cars.

She also mentioned the effects that Grid technology is having on society as a whole, where emergency response Grids lead to better management of dangerous situations, such as those caused by natural disasters. Grids can also be used for early warning and prediction of natural disasters, she added. These early successes provide strong testimony for European Grid leadership, Reding said, but the new challenge is to develop “compelling and imaginative business cases” that will Grid to fulfill its potential in regard to improving EU competitiveness.

Once the agendas of business and research are aligned and in harmony, said Reding, “Europe is in an excellent position to shape and steer a technological revolution via Grid technologies.”

The full text of Reding's speech can be viewed at http://europa.eu.int/rapid/pressReleasesAction.do?reference=SPEECH/05/308&form at=HTML&aged=0&language=EN&guiLanguage=en.

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