The European Research and Education Networks: Ensuring Europe‘s Leadership in e-Science

The European Research and Education Networks: Ensuring Europe‘s Leadership in e-Science

Navonil Mustafee (Swansea University, UK) and Simon J.E. Taylor (Brunel University, UK)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-011-2.ch009
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e-Science is the future of Science. It necessitates the use of powerful computing resources, massive data sets, remote instruments, scientific/visualisation software and expertise that are distributed around the world. e-Infrastructures refer to the underlying computing technologies that facilitate e-Science. To weave these distributed resources into a cohesive entity, and thereby enabling such large-scale science to be conducted in highly distributed environments, needs the utilisation of high speed communication networks. The European Research and Education Networks provide the connectivity required to ensure Europe’s leadership in e-Science. These networks not only provide the communication resources required to conduct e-Science, but they also offer high-speed Internet access to Universities and educational institutes to facilitate teaching and learning. The objective of this book chapter is to inform the readers of the organisation of the underlying European networks that are used by millions of researchers, academics and students. The importance of these networks are highlighted by presenting six e-Science and e-Infrastructure projects that are being funded by the European Commission.
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e-Science (and arguably e-Research) can be defined as Science that may necessitate the utilisation of non-trivial amounts of computing resources and massive data sets to perform scientific enquiry; Science that requires access to remote scientific instruments and distributed software repositories; Science that generates data that may demand analysis from experts belonging to multiple organisations and specialists in different knowledge domains. Such Science is usually carried out in highly distributed environments by exploiting advanced hardware and software technologies like grid computing and high-speed networking.

Grid computing has been defined as a system that coordinates distributed resources using standard, open, general-purpose protocols and interfaces with the aim of delivering non-trivial qualities of service (Foster and Kesselman, 2004). The nature of resources being shared in the grid environment not only includes file exchange but rather direct access to computers, software, data, and other resources, e.g., sensor networks and scientific instruments (Foster et al., 2001). e-Infrastructure enable such sharing of distributed resources. The term encompasses communication networks that bind these dispersed computing resources and thereby facilitate e-Research. These networks also provide high speed Internet access to Universities and educational institutes all over the world. In European context, these networks are collectively referred to as the European Research and Education Networks, or EREN for short.

The EREN presently comprises of 36 regional National Research and Education Networks (NRENs) that are interconnected through the high-bandwidth pan-European GÉANT (GÉANT, 2009a) network. The NRENs are usually funded through national initiatives. GÉANT, on the other hand, is funded not only by the NRENs but also by the European Commission through the GÉANT & e-Infrastructure Unit. For example, the third generation GÉANT project – GÉANT3 (launched in December 2009 and funded till 2013) – has been awarded funding of €93 million from the European Commission under the EU’s 7th Framework Programme, and a matching amount from Europe’s NRENs (GÉANT Press Release, 2009).

The ERENs collectively provide the networking backbone that enable e-Research in Europe. There are presently over 40 European e-Infrastructure and e-Science projects that utilise the ERENs. These projects range from those focussing on computing (supercomputing, grid computing, desktop computing), networking, data repositories, scientific experimentation to projects that are involved in creating global virtual research communities, formulating e-Infrastructure policies and promoting standards. Although the focus of this book chapter is on e-Science projects that are supported by ERENs, it is important to note that the same networks are also used for providing high speed Internet connectivity to further and higher education institutes in Europe.

The focus of this book is on broadband. There have been several studies on the adoption, diffusion and usage of broadband with regard to household consumers and in the context of several countries (Choudrie & Dwivedi, 2004; 2005; 2006abc; 2007; Dwivedi & Irani, 2009; Dwivedi & Lal, 2007; Dwivedi & Weerakkody, 2007; Dwivedi & Williams, 2008; Dwivedi et al., 2006abc; 2007ab;2008ab; 2009; Irani et al., 2009; Khoumbati et al., 2007). In this chapter we focus on yet another consumer of this technology, namely, further and higher education institutes and research centres in Europe. These institutions are usually connected to ERENs which enable them to provide high-speed broadband access to the employees, students, etc. affiliated to such organisations. The objective of this book chapter is to provide the reader with an understanding of the organisation of the ERENs and to highlight the importance of these networks with regard to the European e-Science and e-Infrastructure projects that are being funded by the European Commission. The Commission’s GÉANT & e-Infrastructure Unit plays a vital role in this.

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