New digital tools are revolutionising research – a development we have only seen the beginning of. Universities that succeed in exploiting and developing these opportunities effectively will have a competitive advantage. It concerns the needs of storage, handling and analysis of large amounts of data and large-scale simulations. In addition, increasing requirements for available and reusable data from publicly funded research.
“Today, the infrastructure is divided on different functions, which means that researchers in need of simulations go to a supercomputer centre and do their thing there, then to another infrastructure to do their visualisation, and yet another source for storage, archiving and making data available. It’s very time-consuming and obstacles arise along the way”, says Lars Börjesson, the President’s advisor for national and international research infrastructure.
“When we merge the resources, our researchers can get full-service assistance with their projects. They get the right expert from start to finish, which makes it much easier. We can simply introduce the digital tools much faster in all research areas.”
Chalmers is not alone in having its e-infrastructure spread across several functions. This is the case at most universities.
“From what we can see, no other university in Europe has taken the step to build a merged e-infrastructure. But the need exists, both nationally and internationally – and it is on top of the agenda. But it takes time to introduce.”
As Chalmers representative in national and European bodies, Lars Börjesson has insights into the agendas. Many of the ideas behind Chalmers e-Commons are drawn from discussions at national and European level. One such body is the e-Infrastructure Reflection Group (e-IRG), which for several years was led by a Swedish researcher – Sverker Holmgren.
An outstanding recruitment
Sverker Holmgren is professor in scientific computing and newly recruited director of Chalmers e-Commons. In addition to his chairmanship of the e-IRG, he has also been the director of the national e-infrastructure SNIC, worked at Nordforsk with responsibility for the Nordic cooperation in e-science and participated in governmental infrastructure investigations. It sounds like an outstanding recruitment, and it's mutual. Sverker Holmgren has worked visionally with the issues of e-infrastructure for many years, but now it is time for action.
“Chalmers strength lies in the extensive preparatory work, a process that is well anchored in the faculty, and with a rector's decision, where the structure is well defined and elaborated. I do not think that any other university has come this far, neither in Sweden nor internationally. So, the conditions are good, but that does not mean that the work will be easy, says Sverker Holmgren with a smile.
The main challenges are not in technology, or in building infrastructure. It is about bringing together several different resources and operations, with rather different formats and backgrounds, so that they work together in the best way to build this integrated horizontal structure focused towards the research needs.
“Almost all research areas have either realized or are about to realize – they need a range of e-infrastructure resources, the entire chain. This is where e-Commons is needed, as a researcher you shouldn’t have to turn to five different services, which today also applies different formats and languages.”
Many initiatives underway
Similar plans are underway in this direction at both national and European levels. The planning of a European e-infrastructure Commons started during Sverker Holmgren's leadership of e-IRG, and in addition, the European Commission has been pushing the discussions on sharing of research resources and open science, and the digital platform that is required to enable the vision. This has resulted in the European Open Science Cloud (EOSC) initiative, on which the EU places considerable resources.
At the national level, there are forces driving a merger of the national e-infrastructures: SNIC, Sunet, Swedish National Data Service (SND), and sensitive register data. In early May, the government announced an assignment to Tobias Krantz, to investigate and submit proposals for implementation.
“Our aim with e-Commons is completely in line with national and European plans. We are well positioned at Chalmers, we already have the mindset and have started to implement it”, says Lars Börjesson.
Text: Malin Ulfvarson
Photo: (C3SE) Anna-Lena Lundqvist, (Lars Börjesson) Jan-Olof Yxell, (Sverker Holmgren) Terje Heiestad.
Included in Chalmers e-infrastructure Commons:
- C3SE, Chalmers Centre for Computational Science and Engineering.
- e-science centre, user support
- Representatives from the Library/Department of Communication and Learning in Science, the operational support of IT and archive, and links to these divisions
- Data Science Research Engineers
- SNIC's national AI/ML resource
- Visualization Expertise, InfraVis, Visual Arena
- Connections to Chalmers AI Research Centre (CHAIR) and Data factory at Lindholmen
Short bio, Sverker Holmgren
Professor of scientific computing at Uppsala University, where formerly the director of the strategic research initiative eSSENCE and project manager for the university's research data project. Former chair of European e-Infrastructure Reflection Group (e-IRG) and director of Swedish National Infrastructure for Computing (SNIC).