Interactions for Sustaining a UK Research Computing Ecosystem

There appears to be every prospect in the immediate future for real development to enhance the computing infrastructure that underpins research in the UK. This comes after several years of sound and detailed analysis showing why this is crucial, in documents like the RCUK’s ‘Review of e-Science’.

On 8 July, the Town Meeting – referred to in the previous “Industrial Relations in Plans for Research Computing” post – looked to put the final touches to a Strategic Plan for the UK Research Computing Ecosystem. It was very well attended, only underlining the urgency felt by researchers for this issue to move forward.

Before the Town Meeting, there were still inevitable questions. From Searchlighter’s point of view, one concerned the balance of the stakeholders declaring an interest in this issue being able to cover all the bases on what is required in any infrastructure of this kind. Is the engagement of a kind that the issue demands?

Well, the briefing presentations in the morning offered insight from many different stakeholder perspectives, and the feedback in the afternoon was wide-ranging, both answering our question very well.

A supplement to this issue concerns this breadth of engagement constituting itself in a manner to secure enough of a ‘bottom-up’ perspective to balance out the ‘top-down’ pressure from any agencies that may be funding the infrastructure required.

Neil Chue Hong in his consideration of software made a good case for avoiding the control sought by certain governments that feel they know best as this could strangle creativity in areas such as application development. Facilitating small-scale innovation is surely one of the aims of any strategy, something that can secure its sustainability.

For this computer-based ‘ecosystem’ to prosper and sustain itself, it is obvious that it must evolve over time, adapting to new technologies efficiently and facilitating the kind of innovation that lies at the heart of successful research. If this evolution could be left to itself, there would be no need for any strategic plan, and this was readily acknowledged by protagonists at the Town Meeting

The communications framework that can provide the feedback loops have broken down into the ‘silos’ that are currently hampering the kinds of collaboration that is being sought for UK research. Searchlighter is highly encouraged that this has been acknowledged as an important issue to be addressed in the context of the strategy being proposed.

This commitment is a vital part of the engine that can make the Plan viable: if this can be addressed appropriately in the context of a balanced, interactive approach between any bottom-up/top-down options, it can offer input across all stakeholder groups, including users, that is valid and valuable.

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