The Grid is open, so please come in…

During the week of 17 to 21 September 2012, the European Grid Infrastructure Technical Forum was held in Prague. At this event, organised by EGI (European Grid Infrastructure), grid computing experts set about tackling the challenge of opening their doors to a still wider community. This provided an excellent opportunity to look back at similar initiatives by EGI in the past.


EGI's aim is to coordinate the computing resources of the European Grid Infrastructure and to encourage exchanges between the collaboration and users. Initially dedicated mainly to high-energy particle physics, the European Grid Infrastructure is now welcoming new disciplines and communities. The EGI Technical Forum is organised once a year and is a key date in the community's calendar. The 2012 edition, organised in Prague, was an opportunity to review the advances made and to look constructively into a future where the use of computing grids becomes more widespread.

Since 2010, EGI has supported the largest virtual research community in the field of life sciences, formed around the WeNMR project. The aim of WeNMR is to set up an e-infrastructure based on IT and communication technologies, with a view to democratising the use of the nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) and small-angle X-ray scattering (SAXS) techniques, which probe the internal organisation of biological molecules (NMR) and the structure and surfaces of such molecules (SAXS). Structural biology techniques like these call for powerful computational resources. "WeNMR aims to place the computing tools required for NMR and SAXS at the disposal of a wide community," explains Alexandre Bonvin, the WeNMR project leader and member of EGI's External Advisory Committee (EAC). "We want to show people what computing grids can offer so that they can be used by researchers across Europe and beyond. Today we have about 450 users around the world." This community spcialised in structural biology collaborated naturally with EGI. Alexandre Bonvin adds: "The computing grids we have built in the WeNMR project are based on the same software as EGI, which enabled us to integrate them easily into EGI. It was important for us to get EGI recognition and be able to respond to specific requests but it was also important for EGI because we were the vehicle for integrating a new, active user community."

Ever since its inception, EGI has shown it is capable of opening up to a variety of disciplines. Other initiatives such as the EGI Champions illustrate its desire to grow and diversify its user community. "Last week at the EGI Technical Forum, we launched the EGI Champions scheme," says Steve Brewer community manager for EGI and the EGI Champions scheme. "The purpose of this new scheme is to identify and encourage enthusiastic grid users and help them act as ambassadors to attract the attention of new users and new communities." The selected ambassadors commit themselves to acting in this role for 18 months and in doing so will receive support for attending conferences, technical briefings and similar events. "They can be researchers or research coordinators," Steve Brewer adds, "but they must fulfil three key criteria - be experienced in the use of grid infrastructure, enthusiastic about its future potential and willing to share their enthusiasm and experience with new communities."

by Caroline Duc