Brussels, 31 May 2005
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am very pleased to be here today to share with you my views on the steps that need to be taken to stimulate a European Research Area for Grid Technologies that can help boost innovation, creativity and competitiveness in the European Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) and Media sectors.
The timing of this meeting is most appropriate considering that in June 1945 - almost exactly sixty years ago to the day - the Hungarian mathematician John Von Neumann published one of the seminal papers in the history of computer science. It was the paper in which he outlined the foundations of what was to become the basis of modern computing – the “Von Neumann architecture”. This paper heralded a period of revolutionary and unprecedented progress for society and technology. Still today 60 years later the model that carries Von Neumann’s name endures in tens of millions of computers and servers across the world.
Today, however, thanks to the developments in Grid Technologies driven by a new generation of European computer scientists, we stand on the edge of what could be another major technological revolution. By making colossal processing power on-demand widely available, Grid technologies raises for society and industry the prospect of solving problems never previously imagined and the possibility of offering a whole new generation of services. The potential impact on the quality of life and competitiveness of industry is profound.
What is particularly inspiring for me is to see the worldwide leadership that European researchers - with the support of industry - have already demonstrated in developing and advancing these revolutionary technologies. Scientists in CERN, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research - and let us not forget the birthplace of the World Wide Web 15 years ago – were the first to provide Grid services to other European researchers across the world’s most advanced Computing Grid – the EGEE project. The EGEE infrastructure links more than 100 research sites in 31 countries and provides grid services 24-hours/seven days a week. However, the challenge for Grids now is the same as it was in the early 1990s for the WWW developed by CERN: to demonstrate that this new technology can move beyond communities of researchers and start to deliver benefits to business and society.
It is these challenges I wish to discuss today as it is clear that, if they are overcome, Europe has the opportunity of shaping a new technological revolution, one that can underpin economic growth and social progress.
Message 1: Grids as a key ICT topic in FP7 and the Lisbon strategy
It is now clear that the ambitious objectives set at Lisbon 2000: – higher growth, more and better jobs, and greater social inclusion – have not been met. We are underachieving on both growth and innovation. If we carry on at this rate we will not reach the Lisbon targets.
President Barroso and his Commission have therefore re-launched the Lisbon Strategy as the centrepiece of Community policy. ICTs are key in the Lisbon strategy and their contribution will be captured and shaped through my new initiative i2010 (or European Information Society 2010) which will be adopted tomorrow.
This aims at promoting close cooperation between Member States and industry in order to:
- achieve a borderless European information space;
- stimulate innovation through investment in ICT research, encourage the industrial application and uptake of ICT; and, finally,
- make the European Information Society as inclusive, secure and accessible as possible.
Similarly, in the next framework programme, FP7, Grids as drivers for new software infrastructures and service oriented architectures, are also recognised as being one of the main ICT topics with strong potential for providing innovation and large-scale economic and societal benefits.
Message 2: Need to increase R&D spending to 3% of GDP
I do not need to convince you of the importance of ICT. And yet in Europe we do not invest in it nearly as much as other major economies. Across the EU 20% of our research expenditure is devoted to ICT; on the other hand our direct competitors – devote 30%. In Europe, the total proportion of private research expenditure targeted at ICT is 38%. Worldwide, the figure is close to 60%. The message is clear: Europe is not sufficiently investing in its future.
This is a major reason why the European Council set in 2002 the “Barcelona objective” of raising the European effort from 1.9% of the European Union GDP to 3% of GDP by 2010, of which 2/3 should be funded by industry.
On our side, I am pleased to say the Commission has requested a doubling of the research budget for the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7). The proposed budget for FP7 is more than €70 billion over 7 years, which represents a doubling with respect to FP6 in terms of annual budget.
Message 3: Creation of a European GRID Research Area
However, the impact of this increase in EU RTD expenditure can be increased significantly by ensuring the co-ordination of European and national research programmes. Despite having centres of excellence in all countries and research leadership in some areas – such as Grid technologies - the fragmentation of research activities in Europe represents a major handicap, in particular when compared to the US and Japan. Europe can certainly do better. The creation of a European Research Area can considerably increase the return we get on our research expenditure, and is a cornerstone of my i2010 initiative.
A European Research Area initiative aims at the creation of an "internal market" in research, while restructuring the European research fabric through improved coordination of national research activities and policies;
I am looking for the co-operation of the Member States in achieving such a research area. In the long term, I expect this to lead to more sustained forms of collaboration, including the reciprocal opening of national research programmes to researchers from other member countries and the launch of fully transnational programmes jointly funded by more than one country.
In this context, the ERA initiative on Grids (the so-called GridCoord project) that has been initiated is a very valuable means of increasing the coherence of the European research efforts in the area, by stimulating and supporting joint activities and programme coordination. Its success can have a considerable impact in achieving the Barcelona objective.
In addition to the support from the Member States, I am also looking for a strong buy-in from industry to the EU’s vision for ICTs. Public money on its own cannot and will not underpin this necessary increase in research expenditure. Industry too must very seriously increase its commitment to funding research. The initial steps taken by industry to create such a platform in the area of Grids are already a very encouraging sign. I want to see the private sector making substantial commitments to long-term and strategic research in ICTs in Europe. The rewards this will bring to all actors – both to industry and citizens - in the long term is considerable.
Message 4: Exploitation of RTD in the context of European Technology Platforms
While Europe may be strong on Grid research, commercial exploitation of its research results can still be strengthened. This presents a considerable opportunity for industry: put simply, Grid technologies are at a turning point in their evolution for industry to step in and transform the world class research results into key services to drive European growth in the 21st century.
A key vehicle for building on this opportunity are private-public partnerships which can help accelerate deployment of ICT-based services – including Grid services - in ways that bring practical benefits to European citizens while raising the pace of innovation in products and services.
The European Commission welcomes European Technology Platforms. These can ensure that Europe reaps the full benefits of research and innovation by not just increasing the commitment of industry in investing in R&D and innovation but also aligning business agendas with research agenda with a view to addressing the requirements of the end users, including SMEs. The outcome will be to accelerate the adoption and take-up of research results.
I am looking for actions that help enterprises to move up the value chain and to meet growing global competition.
In line with this, the proposed technology platform on service oriented architecture (Software Services and Grids) that is currently being discussed seems to be an appropriate response to the trends in the ICT market which are seeing a shift from the sales of products towards the provision of on-demand services. This technological and economic transformation is opening up new opportunities for European IT, telecom and other service providers. Grids as an enabler towards the creation of service-oriented knowledge utilities will easily provide to anyone, anywhere, at any time, quickly and cost-effectively any piece of knowledge needed. For this to become a reality, it requires joining forces by European research and industry leaders to develop a common vision and strategy.
Message 5: Concrete examples of Grids
Foundations for an ETP in Grids and Software services are already in place, even if Grids have not yet reached full maturity. Several key European sectors are already seeing concrete examples of Grids delivering on their potential.
For example, in the multimedia sector, Grids have already opened up new possibilities for SMEs involved in video production. With Grids they now have abilities to provide services that previously were beyond the capabilities of an SME such as the performing of digital rendering with post-production using a virtual 3D studio. SMEs can afford Grid power on demand, integrating it into their local working environments without making investments in huge ICT infrastructures.
European car manufacturers have also discovered the advantages of Grids. Using Grid technologies, design, simulation and testing tools can be integrated in a homogeneous Grid-based environment at the hand of any engineer within the global organisation and with the supply industry. Most importantly, a new dimension of Knowledge discovery tools only possible due to the Grid integration will enable the production of safer, more reliable and in general higher quality cars - the major strengths the success of the European car industry is built on.
But it is not just industries and SMEs that are benefiting. Society benefits thanks to the emergency response Grids, time-critical and dangerous natural disaster situations (such as floods or tsunamis) can be better managed. Grids bring together different crisis management teams from different organisations and help them work more effectively by providing them with ad-hoc access to powerful ICT infrastructures and computing resources that would otherwise be impossible to afford. Recent natural disasters in Asia and some years ago in Eastern Europe call for this type of new technologies not only for managing crises but most importantly for early warning and the prediction of the impacts of such events.
The fact that such early users are already seeing clear benefits in using Grids is strong testimony to the world-class leadership of European Research in Grids. The challenge now facing Grids at this stage of their innovation cycle is to ensure that compelling and imaginative business cases are developed. These encouraging experiences of early users prove that there is an opportunity for industry to create revenue-generating services using Grids. This is the path that needs to be followed if Grids are to fulfil their potential for improving EU competitiveness.
In conclusion, Europe is in an excellent position to shape and steer a technological revolution via Grid Technologies. In order to achieve this, a number of steps must be taken in terms of harmonizing and coordinating Grid research efforts across Europe and also aligning business and research agendas. When these steps are taken, Europe will be ready to influence the technological landscape of the 21st century as much as Von Neumann did in the 20th century. You can count on my support to help us achieve this challenging goal.