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iSGTW Profile - People behind the grid: Erwin Laure

Feature - People behind the grid: Erwin Laure

Image courtesy of Erwin Laure

Erwin Laure was technical director for Enabling Grids in E-sciencE (EGEE), and worked for CERN for the past six-and-a-half years. ISGTW caught up with him during his last full week at EGEE, before he was to take up a position in Stockholm at the Royal Institute of Technology, known by its Swedish acronym “KTH.”

iSGTW: If you had to describe what you do at EGEE in two or three sentences, what would you say?

EL: I help keep the project’s technical end running, on a short- to medium- term basis. I make sure that we meet the requirements of users, so far as middleware, infrastructure, training and coordination of our 100-plus partners goes.

iSGTW: How did you come to EGEE?
EL: Just as I was finishing up my PhD in high-performance computing and business administration at the University of Vienna in the late 1990s, this thing came along called the “grid.” It sounded interesting, and I knew there was something starting up on the Swiss/French border, at CERN, called the European Data Grid (EDG). I started out on a 2-year fellowship at CERN, working on data management tools. Then Bob Jones asked if I’d be interested in working with him on the overall coordination of EDG  . . . I thought it would be a fun project, in a nice area, with interesting people from diverse backgrounds, and I could learn a lot. EDG evolved into EGEE, and I was on board from the earliest days, focusing on EGEE’s middleware. I later became technical director.

I also traveled a lot—to every country in Europe, to Asia, Australia and America. They made me see the world.

And, of course, I got to see Switzerland.

iSGTW: Where will you be going?
The high-performance computing center at KTH, where I’ll oversee servers and storage for applications in research and education. KTH has a first-rate international reputation, and provides services to organizations such as the Karolinska Institute, a well-known medical university.

It will be interesting. I’ve never been to Sweden long-term before, although I have taught classes at a summer computing school there.

But I will have to get used to Swedish dishes such as “surströmming,” or fermented herring.
I think fermented is another way of saying “rotten.” (Laughs.)

iSGTW: How did you become interested in computing?
EL: It was something encouraged at the high school and college where I went, back home in Austria. I always liked programming, dealing with languages such as BASIC and FORTRAN. And remember that this was during the ‘80s, when just about every computer game could be taken apart and reprogrammed.

The grounds of the Royal Institute of Technology.

Image courtesy of KTH

Looking back

iSGTW: What is your take on the nature of the grid?
EL: The grid is fundamentally an academic, research and science structure in a non-profit setting. Only a small part of it is about technology. The rest is about science in a collaborative environment, and sharing resources to reach a common goal.

In the early days, I think the term “grid” was oversold, as if it were some kind of silver bullet that would eliminate the need for coding, managing machines, or setting up algorithms. Instead, you still must do all those things, but with the grid as an added service level that lets you  expand the reach of your computing power and data.

The good thing is that with the hype over, people now have more reasonable expectations, and can do real work.

iSGTW: What does the grid need to do to gain more acceptance?
EL:  Two things: It needs to be easier for users to access, and easier for resource providers to join.

The grid was developed by experts for experts, and they wanted as much functionality as possible, without paying as much attention to ease of usage.

To add to the problem, many institutions developed their own customized variants of the interface, geared to the needs of their own people. The result was that they were not interoperable.

Meanwhile, if you are a resource provider and you want to join the grid, there’s still a high threshold to overcome. We’ve improved it a lot over the years, but it is still complex to install, platform support is limited, and it needs a lot of babysitting.

So, we have to make it easier on both sides—for the end user and the resource provider.

iSGTW: Will you continue your affiliation with EGEE?
EL: KTH is a member of EGEE, and has been a partner since the very beginning. And I’ll be working on its national, regional and pan-European configuration, dealing with cluster-based grids and supercomputer-based grids. So, yes, I’ll be continuing my affiliation.

iSGTW: What do you think you will miss, once you leave here?
EL:  The people, obviously, but also the warm autumn days. I may miss some of the food as well. I’m bringing my fondue pot, just in case.


Dan Drollette, iSGTW

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