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European Commission's Work Programme 2016-2017 is focusing on funding e-Infrastructure services

At ISC 2015 in Frankfurt, Germany, we talked with Augusto Burgueno-Arjona from the European Commission, European e-Infrastructure Programme, about e-Infrastructures. e-Infrastructures refer to research and innovation infrastructures and to ICT infrastructures, so basically networking, computing and data infrastructures. The European Commission funds the research projects which covers: networking, GEANT; high performance computing, EGI and PRACE; and projects for data like EUDAT, open science and open access. Those are the major projects. In addition, there are also the projects supporting the Centres of Excellence for HPC, virtual research environments to cover certain thematic areas. Basically, the EC's objective is to fund the ICT layer of e-Infrastructures that are needed for the researchers to carry out research.

You are funding the e-Infrastructures themselves and the development but there are also parts of the Commission that develop the real research too?

Augusto Burgueno-Arjona: Historically, DG Connect has been focusing on the ICT part and now, the colleagues of DG RTD focus more on thematic infrastructures. Since these thematic infrastructures are becoming more data-driven, what we are now beginning to observe is that there are certain infrastructures, like ELIXIR, for example, which is very much focused on ICT and ICT infrastructures, and the real challenge is to make sure how we rationalize funding and services so that we focus funding for e-infrastructures in a way that services are also offered to the thematic infrastructures. In this way, we find an appropriate balance of what's devoted to e-infrastructures, the ICT layer, and what is devoted to the thematic infrastructures which are more focused on the specific needs of certain scientific communities.

How does the European Commission decide on what to fund? There is the Horizon 2020 Programme which decides on the projects?

Augusto Burgueno-Arjona: We have a two-year programme cycle. Every two years, we produce a work programme which is the result of consultation with our beneficiaries but also with the scientific community in general. It takes into account what we have been funding in the past, of course. It goes through an evaluation process by the member states through the programme committee that supervises our work in the research programme.

The next period will be 2016-2017. When will that be officially announced?

Augusto Burgueno-Arjona: We are in the last steps of the process. The work programme will be hopefully adopted in the month of October. Then it will be made public. What we expect, is that, at the ICT Conference of October 20-22 in Lisbon, we will be able to announce it and explain it in detail to the potential beneficiaries.

Are there already general things known about the programme?

Augusto Burgueno-Arjona: The part we are responsible for, the e-Infrastructures part, has been fully discussed and certain elements have already been presented. We are in the final stage - we cannot distribute the document, of course - but we can already explain the main changes that we are introducing. In the past, we used to have a work programme architecture which was very much based on technological layers. We were funding independently network infrastructures, distributed computing, data, and so forth. What we observe is that there is a convergence that is happening, not only from the perspective of technology but also from the perspective of operators and service providers. The differences between these layers have become more and more blurred. We are shifting the architecture now to a service-oriented mechanism. The focus will now be on services and we will fund services.

In order to do that, we have organized a work programme in two parts: one that we call integration. What we expect is that the current operators of networking, distributed computing, and so forth, will make the necessary efforts so that the services that they provide are integrated and can be seamlessly combined. That is one part. Then, we have another part that we call innovation where we hope to encourage the development of new services. The basic idea here is that we acknowledge the know how of our current operators and for that, we have reserved some budget for what we call platform-driven innovation. That budget will be devoted for the current operators to keep on developing new services on their platforms. But we are putting extra focus on what we call user-driven innovation. The objective is to encourage new actors, SMEs or innovative companies to take advantage of services that already exist, either for the development of their own business, or to develop new additional services on top of the existing infrastructures.

Our objective is to foster and encourage a really open ecosystem of e-Infrastructure services that in the long run will be exploited in all manners possible and really open to imaginative and innovative ideas.

In the community there are people, for instance in e-IRG, that are talking about an e-Infrastructure Commons and in EGI where they are talking about an Open Science Commons. Is that related to this?

Augusto Burgueno-Arjona: I have just described how we will organize the funding. We definitely support the vision of the Commons. We also strongly support the concept of the European Research and Science Cloud that has been recently put forward as well. We think that these things are complementary. We are really concerned about how the European budget is allocated for e-Infrastructures and we believe the most efficient way is to fund services. Whether this results in a natural structuring or a natural way of implementing the Commons, or a natural way of implementing the European Research and Science Cloud, has to be seen. From my perspective there are high chances that if we are successful in the Calls with good proposals and the vast definition of services, the natural consequence will be, at least at a European level, we will be able to identify which those Commons are and we will be able to identify which are those services that the European Research and Science Cloud offers.

We think that it is consistent, that it is compatible, that it enforces those conceptualizations, so to speak, of the e-Infrastructure but these are, as I said before, measures about how to structure funding.

When we understand correctly, the way to structure funding of is more focused on services and they are building blocks. When the community says we should better organize the building blocks in such a way that they are a kind of Commons then that is something that the community should do.

Augusto Burgueno-Arjona: That is correct. What we also hope, as you well know, the e-Infrastructures is not just a European effort. As a matter of fact, our effort in terms of budget, is limited compared to the effort that the member states are putting in the development of infrastructures. The member states are confronted with the same type of problems. For historical reasons, funding has been organized per layer, per technological layer. This might show the way perhaps to an alternative way of funding which might encourage member states as well to consider structuring their funding in terms of services in which case you will really have a very natural way of defining the Commons and a very natural way of identifying which parts of the Commons are funded by whom. We will see, we don't know, we don't have a magic ball but our main concern, as I said, was to make sure that the services that are funded at a European level, are well identified, well documented, fundable, and so forth.

More details will be seen and we will explain, like for example the catalogue of services that we want to encourage to be developed. We are taking very serious steps towards having rock-solid KPIs, cost models, and the rest. We really are expecting to have a solid package that will eventually facilitate these developments of the Commons and the European Research and Science Cloud.

Thank you very much for the interview.