NeIC 2016-2020 strategy implementation plan

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Approved by NeIC board on 2015-12-21.

Background and Context

The new NeIC Board agreed in its first meeting on June 9th, 2015 to revise the NeIC strategy. A dedicated seminar was held in Steningevik August 25-26th, 2015. The meeting was facilitated by Rdigo and preparations included interviews and a survey. A draft strategy (one page) was produced during the seminar. This draft was circulated to stakeholders and a survey was conducted to gather comments for a final version. The strategy is the point of departure for the present implementation plan with concrete activities to be monitored throughout the strategy period. The present document has been discussed by the NeIC Board and the final revision was made after the Board meeting in Helsinki on December 16th, 2015.

A revised Nordic eScience Action Plan was delivered to the Nordic Council of Minister in June 2015 and the Nordic Council of Ministers (EK-U) responded by requesting NordForsk to facilitate the implementation. The plan includes five concrete actions on e-Infrastructure and NeIC is the natural body to coordinate their implementation.

Current major initiatives for NeIC are Tier-1 operations, federated cloud services, services for sensitive data tailored to the bio- and medical sciences, and engagement with the environmental sciences communities. Smaller scale efforts include analysis work (HPC collaboration, data management opportunities study, Tier-1 evaluation), support to EISCAT_3D planning and accounting tools. In 2015, NeIC was asked by NordForsk to follow up on a project to further develop the ARC middleware.

A final piece of the mosaic is the NeIC 2020 funding plan that was submitted by NeIC to the funding agencies in 2014. Of particular interest here is the proposed principle for strategic co-funding, involving a mix of national and Nordic sources.

This memo is an attempt at fitting these pieces together into a coherent implementation plan for 2016-2020.

NeIC Strategy

This section describes the Focus Areas and important milestones of the strategy, and gives details for the major initiatives.

Vision (Where)

NeIC is a global role model for cross-border distributed and sustainable e-infrastructure services.

Strategy 2020 (How)

Pool and Share

Enhance the productivity of researchers in the Nordic region beyond national efforts through new services, pooling competencies and sharing the resources of national e-infrastructure providers. Strengthen partnerships and prospects for long-term funding through active stakeholder dialogue to promote sustainable services.

Mission (Why)

Accelerate development and provisioning of cost-effective, best-in-class e-infrastructure services beyond national capabilities.

Values (Guiding our work)

Motivated by providing added value to researchers and engaging actively with our stakeholders. Open, reliable and continuously striving to improve in our work.

Focus Areas

The strategy will be implemented through four Focus Areas (FAs). Each Focus Area has its own set of milestones, as described below.

FA-1. Pool Competencies

The national e-Infrastructure providers possess in sum a wide range of competencies within operation and development of services. However, it is partially fragmented and not coordinated across countries. In order to succeed as a collaboration, NeIC must be able to pool competences from the five countries to make the Nordics capable of tackling e-infrastructure challenges beyond what is currently possible on singular national scales. The pooling of competencies will be pursued by launching the following activities:

a. Map skills, identify and prioritize needs.

NeIC can become a driver for further development of competence across the entire Nordic e-infrastructure community. To achieve this we need to map the current skills distribution and match it towards the current state-of-the-art within the field, but also against the needs of the user communities in the Nordics. One study will be performed during 2016 to map out the current needs and competencies within the national provider organisations and relevant stakeholders and compare these with international state-of-the-art e-infrastructures. The study will be performed by a group of representatives from the national providers. The deliverable is a report to the NeIC board in 2017 with recommendations for future NeIC activities. This study will build on the outcomes from the Cognitus report and the outcomes of a similar on-going survey within needs for data services. Further analysis work along these lines will be based on the outcomes of these studies.

Milestones:

  • Report on skills for the Nordic e-infrastructure community in 2017.
b. Establish NeIC and cross-border training programmes.

A training activity will be established to communicate and promote cross-national participation in ongoing training programs and to identify and organise new activities, based on outputs from the previous initiative. A proposal describing the training activity will be developed in 2016. Training activities will be coordinated during 2017-2020.

Milestones:

  • Plan and establish a training programme in 2016.
  • Operational training programme in 2017.
c. Make NeIC more attractive for competent personnel.

Engagements with NeIC are temporary. For the collaboration between NeIC and national providers to function optimally NeIC must be attractive to individuals and it must be attractive for the management of national organisations to assign staff to NeIC activities. If this can be achieved, the result will be a stable and predictable staffing situation, to the benefit of all parties involved. The current collaboration model will be evaluated during 2016 and the current hiring practises will be assessed. A human resources policy will be developed during 2016 and implementation will start in 2017. Experiences will be assessed throughout 2018-2020.

Milestones:

  • Develop a Human Resources Policy in 2016.
  • Implement a Human Resources Policy in 2017.
  • Monitoring system for staffing implemented in 2017.

FA-2. Share Resources

Resources can be hardware (CPU cycles, storage), software, services, or human resources. A framework for sharing hardware resources is necessary for pursuing several collaboration opportunities, including HPC, data storage and cloud initiatives. Important elements include federated authentication, authorization and accounting, as well as harmonizing procedures in compliance with national rules and regulations. Another opportunity is the sharing of application expertise for advanced user support. Furthermore, the on-going Tryggve project aims at establishing a framework for sharing of sensitive data. This focus area corresponds with Action 6 in the revised Nordic eScience Action Plan. At least one three-year NeIC project will be started in 2016 with the following tasks identified:

a. Launch pilots to establish ambition levels.

Use cases will be identified together with the national providers, based on input from user communities. Candidate use cases may include peer-to-peer lending, special purpose hardware, Icelandic user community, application expertise support.

Milestones:

  • Resource sharing project established in 2016.
  • Cross-boundary use cases defined in 2016.
b. Create framework agreement

(scope, CPU/storage). Agreements will be negotiated in close interaction with management of national provider organisations and resource allocation committees. National rules and regulations will be identified and explored.

Milestones:

  • Report comparing national policies and rules in 2017.
  • Framework agreement with national providers in 2018.
c. Establish enabling processes & technologies.

The use cases will be taken as a basis for developing relevant processes and technologies, such as authentication, authorization and accounting. Current AAI solutions will be assessed. Models for balancing or compensating for resource usage will be investigated.

Milestones:

  • Report on resource balancing within 2017.
  • Policies and technologies facilitating authentication and authorisation of nordic users within 2019.
  • Federated accounting system for shared resources within 2019.

FA-3. Secure Long-Term Funding

A sustainable Nordic e-Infrastructure collaboration depends on sustainable funding. The time scope in the current funding regime varies between the sponsors and hinders long-term planning. The Focus Area involves the following activities:

a. Map funding sources, modalities and application mechanisms.

A report will be written in 2016 describing the current situation. Questions to address include application deadlines, award criteria, who applies national funding and what is needed from NeIC. It is also of interest to explore other sources of funding, such as EU. NordForsk as a partner needs to be described, both in the strategic sense and in terms of opportunities for NeIC to support specific NordForsk programmes.

Milestones:

  • Report on current funding situation during 2016.
  • Reassessment of the funding situation in 2018.
b. Agree on total funding and share from each funding source.

A general long-term funding plan based on the revised strategy will form the basis for this agreement. The report will be written during 2017. Critical questions include:

  • What should be the funding level to apply for nationally?
  • What is the ideal mix of core funding and project-based funding from the countries?
  • How would the national providers want to cover their project-based co-funding in the longer term?
  • What is the ceiling for NordForsk funding?

Milestones:

  • Clarify the funding situations with the national providers in 2016.
  • Long-term funding plan within 2016.
  • Agreement with stakeholders on share of funding during 2016.
c. Adapt to unaligned funding periods.

NeIC management will continuously work with the providers to make adaptations to national funding regimes.

Milestones:

  • Funding is included as a separate agenda item on annual dialogue meetings from 2016 onwards.

FA-4. Strengthen Stakeholder Dialogue

Engagement with the full range of stakeholders is essential for NeIC’s function as a facilitator of collaboration. Stakeholder engagement involves communication, openness, professional meetings, excellent collaboration platforms. Activities are

a. Map stakeholders and partnerships.

A map of stakeholders and their roles will be produced during 2016 and consolidated in the NeIC board.

Milestones:

  • Stakeholder map in 2016.
b. Create engagement plan

(frequency, means). The means and frequency of current engagement with various stakeholders will be described and a plan for the future will be proposed during 2016. The plan should also relate to the NeIC communication plan.

Milestones:

  • Stakeholder engagement plan in 2016.
c. Implement stakeholder and partnership monitoring

(including surveys). The engagement plan will be implemented by management from 2017 and monitored by the board throughout 2017-2020.

Milestones:

  • Routines for stakeholder and partnership monitoring in 2017, including routine for revising the engagement plan.
  • Engagement activities monitored, 2018-2020.

The Nordic eScience Action Plan

The Nordic eScience action plan has ten actions, five of which relates to e-Infrastructure. These actions support the general aims of pooling competencies, and sharing resources (FA-1 and FA-2). The implementation of the e-Infrastructure actions provide an opportunity for NeIC to secure long-term funding (FA-3), at the same time providing a platform for dialogue with major stakeholders. These five e-Infrastructure actions are

Action 6: Nordic Sharing and Exchange of e-Infrastructure Resources

A Nordic framework for sharing and exchanging computing and data storage resources will be implemented. This will build on federating authentication, authorisation and accounting structures and be integrated into international initiatives. Mechanisms for resource exchange, compliant with national rules and regulations, will be implemented. This action provides an essential foundation for the enhanced Nordic research collaboration described in other actions in this Action Plan.

Action 7: A Nordic Federated Cloud

Cloud computing has become an established paradigm for running services on external infrastructure, where virtually unlimited capacity can be dynamically allocated to suit the current needs of scientific communities and where new instances of a service can be deployed within a short time frame. This is an emerging paradigm also in the research sector. A common Nordic approach could mitigate duplication of efforts and benefit from scale and increased elasticity, thereby offering computing resources to Nordic researchers in a flexible manner. Nordic federated cloud services for research will be developed and integrated into relevant international initiatives.

Action 8: Nordic High Performance Computing Collaboration

NeIC has coordinated recent evaluations of the Nordic HPC project and the Nordic use of European PRACE resources. These projects have explored different modes of international collaboration on large-scale computing, and the evaluations have revealed a potential for strengthened Nordic collaboration on high-end computing investments and operation. A science case and a business model for Nordic HPC collaboration should be developed, taking national assessments as the starting point. Improved Nordic HPC collaboration could pave the way for synchronised or shared investments, thereby providing more researchers with access to the high-end resources and enabling them to take a lead within the field of environmentally-friendly data centre facilities.

Action 9: Nordic e-Infrastructure for Sensitive Data

The Nordic countries have major roles in several life science infrastructures, such as the ESFRI projects ELIXIR and BBMRI. They also have high-quality health registries for research, as has been demonstrated through the NordForsk NORIA-net on registry data and by several other groups and task forces. e-Infrastructure services enabling responsible provisioning of access to sensitive data will be developed to enable exploitation of these research opportunities and further stimulate collaboration in these areas. The infrastructure will enable storage, computation and responsible sharing of anonymised research data, in accordance with legal terms of use and in close collaboration with data owners. This action will build on the framework for authentication and authorisation developed under Action 6.

Action 10: Nordic infrastructure for Scientific Software

Nordic groups have trademarked several scientific software packages and made critical contributions to many others. By ensuring a leading role in selected software initiatives, the Nordic countries can influence the relevant maintenance strategies, thereby catering to the interests of Nordic user communities. Nordic efforts will be supported for selected scientific software packages and for providing the basis for coordinated participation in the Horizon 2020 e-Infrastructure calls for Centres of Excellence in scientific software.

Finally, note that on-going work in NeIC on data management collaboration may support the proposed Action 5: Nordic Pilot Projects within Open Science. NeIC received funding from NordForsk in 2015 for data infrastructure supporting open science.

Funding Contributions from NordForsk 2013-2015

Since the establishment of NeIC within the NordForsk system, NeIC has received annual funding contributions under the NordForsk action plan.

  1. In 2013, the contribution to Nordic e-Infrastructure Collaboration was 4 MNOK.
  2. In 2014, NeIC received 5 MNOK for Nordic e-Infrastructure services for targeted user communities in the area of cross-border collaboration and e-Infrastructure services for ESFRI projects with Nordic dimension and for NeGI Centres of Excellence.
  3. A further contribution in 2014 of 5 MNOK to a Nordic computing resources pool. This involves a virtual pool of computing resources for use by Nordic research communities. The pool will compensate for imbalances that are induced by Nordic use of nationally owned resources and it will work as an incentive for the national e-Infrastructure providers in piloting the concrete sharing of e-resources.
  4. A contribution of 0,5 MNOK in 2014 to Cost-efficient, environmentally friendly Nordic high performance computing collaboration aimed at following up on the evaluation with a feasibility study to investigate the opportunities for a next phase of collaboration in this area.
  5. In 2015, NeIC received 5 MNOK from NordForsk to e-Infrastructure supporting Nordic Research Infrastructures. The goal for NeIC was to develop e-Infrastructure services in collaboration with national e-Infrastructure organizations and national research infrastructure nodes.
  6. NeIC received 3 MNOK in 2015 to facilitate flexible HPC resource sharing between the countries, and link the national infrastructures to European HPC infrastructure.
  7. Data infrastructure supporting open science. NeIC received 2 MNOK to enable cost-efficient data sharing between the national data management initiatives through competence sharing and joint development of services.
  8. A further 2 MNOK was awarded by NordForsk (The NeIC Board recommended in Item 14-18 that NordForsk supports ARC on the condition that the Nordugrid consortium seeks closer collaboration with NeIC) to support ARC middleware maintenance, and NeIC was requested by the NordForsk Board to coordinate this action and to advise on continued support from 2017 as part of the NeIC strategy (2017-2020).

The funding from NordForsk has been allocated in accordance with Table 1. The resource pool has been difficult to establish, in part due to immaturity of the resource sharing mechanisms between the countries. Thus, these funds may alternatively be reallocated to cloud collaboration, to establish the main components of sharing mechanisms for federated cloud resources. As Table 1 shows, there is still unallocated funding available for Data infrastructure supporting open science (2 MNOK) and HPC and resource sharing (2 MNOK). It is suggested to propagate these funds into the next generation of major NeIC activities, as will be described in the following.

Table 1: Allocations of NordForsk funding to NeIC projects 2013-2015.
Total Tryggve Glenna Cognitus B2Share Unallocated
NeIC '13  4
HPC '14 0.5  0.5
Resource pool '14 5  5
User communities '14 4 1
Data Infra for open science '15 2  2
HPC and resource sharing '15 3  3
Supporting Nordic RIs '15  5
NeIC core funding 5.7  5.7
Total project cost NeIC 30.2  13 5.7 0.5 1 10

Next generation NeIC initiatives

NordForsk’s mandate to implement the Nordic eScience Action Plan provides an unprecedented opportunity to for strategic cooperation with NeIC. The new NeIC strategy explicitly mentions the focus area resource sharing, which is one of the proposed eScience actions. As argued above, all the five e-Infrastructure actions of the eScience plan will support NeIC in the implementation of the new strategy.

For the new strategy period (2016-2020), it is suggested that NeIC organises natural parts of its activity to correspond with the eScience plan. This will align NeIC activities with funding streams and will simplify reporting. It is proposed to continue the data management collaboration, which is related to “Action 5: Nordic Pilot Projects within Open Science”. This activity will be merged into a future resource sharing activity. NeIC will also continue the core activity of operating a high-quality Nordic Tier-1 service, as well as continue the engagement started in 2015 with the environmental science communities (including the E3DS project in support of EISCAT). The main activities that are expected in the strategy period are given in Table 2. In Table 3, current NeIC activities (projects) are mapped into the focus areas of the new strategy as well as into the eScience action plan. It is seen that there is a good fit to the eScience plan. In general, it is argued that all collaborative projects involve engagement with stakeholders (provider organisations or user communities) and that they also pool competencies across borders. Furthermore, several projects involve sharing a range of resources. No projects directly support long-term funding, although successful projects may do so indirectly.

Table 2: Proposed NeIC Projects 2016-2020
Project
1 Nordic Tier-1 operations
2 Nordic Sharing and Exchange of e-Infrastructure Resources (A-6), including Nordic High Performance Computing Collaboration (A-8) and data management collaboration
3 A Nordic Federated Cloud (A-7)
4 Nordic e-Infrastructure for Sensitive Data (A-9)
5 Nordic e-Infrastructure for Scientific Software (A-10)
6 EISCAT_3D Support Project


Table 3: Current NeIC Initiatives by Focus Area and eScience Actions
Nordic Sharing and Exchange of e-Infrastructure Resources (A-6) A Nordic Federated Cloud (A-7) Nordic High Performance Computing Collaboration (A-8) Nordic e-Infrastructure for Sensitive Data (A-9) Nordic Infrastructure for Scientific Software
FA-1 Pool Competencies NT1, ENV, BMS, HPC, E3DS, DATA, Tryggve, Glenna  Glenna, ENV, BMS  HPC Tryggve KISS
FA-2 Share Resources NT1, ENV, BMS, HPC, E3DS, DATA, Tryggve, Glenna Glenna, ENV, BMS HPC Tryggve KISS
FA-3 Secure Long-Term Funding NT-1
FA-4 Strengthen Stakeholder Dialogue KISS, ENV, BMS, E3DS, Tryggve HPC Tryggve

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