Centralizing Science?

Contributing author: Bill St. Arnaud

Years ago many universities had their own research telescopes and small accelerators. But as the demands, as well as the costs, of science increased, researchers quickly realized they had to consolidate their resources and build instruments that served the needs of hundreds or thousands of researchers around the globe. Virtually of all today’s big science instruments such as telescopes, particle accelerators, and synchrotrons are multi-country collaborations.

Research computing may be headed in the same direction.

The next generation of super-computers and research cloud infrastructure required for things like climate modeling, weather forecasting, or epidemiological studies, which will require massive amounts of energy to operate. The energy costs alone may compel international partnership to deploy and build such infrastructure on the same scale of global collaboration as we have seen for telescopes and particle accelerators.

Big Science facilities need to think about emissions.

More importantly with the growing threat of climate change it is critical that such facilities not be major sources of CO2 emissions in their own right. Some examples:

  • The new climate modeling super computer in Exeter in the UK
  • The recently constructed NCAR data center in Wyoming.

We are already seeing early signs of such research-computing collaborations. Examples:

  • The investigation by CERN to relocate its data center to Nordic countries,
  • The examination, by universities in the Boston area to relocate their computing facilities to a small municipal hydro-electric facility 90 miles west of Boston.

Potential cost savings

Global collaboration will also significantly save individual universities millions of dollars in electrical costs as research computing currently represents 15-30% of the electricity consumption at many universities. The energy savings alone could possibly pay for this next generation of research computing and still leave additional money to support critical research.

Obviously high speed optical networks and open lightpath exchanges will be critical to such a reality. But it is just as important that energy and environmental savings not be transferred to the higher costs in the network and so new low-carbon network architectures are needed as well.

Do you see this as the future of research computing?


Bill Saint ArnaudAbout the author

Bill St. Arnaud, formerly a Chief Research Officer at CANARIE, is a Green IT consultant who works with clients on a variety of subjects such as the next generation Internet and practical solutions to reduce GHG emissions such as free broadband and electrical highways. He currently also works as a consultant at CANARIE.

One Response to Centralizing Science?

  1. I must admit, no.

    Where you talk about centralized science, I would say “globalized”, although I think we understand it to be the same thing. So while research goes through this consolidation of resources, education – the recipient of its findings – remains very much the same. i.e. Cathedrals are built for specialites with their lobby groups, while the bazaar remains ignorant of why they can’t find jobs.

    I’ve never found a study about the percentage of transport energies which can be contributed to researchers attending conferences. But I intuit that it would be substantial.

    So yes, I can see that, if I were to separate research (industries) from the public good it was intended to provide, this approach – shifting the toys to be near sustainable energy resources – might be seen as a way forward. But of course research exists on the public purse. NASA is one ‘flagship’ to feel the pinch of social reality.

    I have more faith in believing that the architectures we are searching for are more likely to come when the Research industry puts the D back into its description. i.e. not allocating Development into another classification called Aid. E.g. eduroam, as you write (well) about, is something which offers all publically funded instutitions, and their common citizens the advantage of huge economic/energy savings, globally. Chris writes about what the “wireless movement could learn from eduroam”.

    Well nothing much really; apart from the fact that researchers are too busy doing research in their own private (?) worlds to be bothered turning their research into development. I overstate the case, but I know you’ll agree. So one thing I’d be interested in is what you see as the result of citizens being issued lifelong learning accounts, with eduroam as the first service (and any others you might like to illustrate). NRENs as innovative “disrupter?” I would certainly hope so.

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