Over the last decade, a number of coordinated and complementary e-infrastructure initiatives have been crucial for enabling high-quality research and ICT developments in south-east Europe (SEE), and have supported the European vision of inclusive and smart growth, based on knowledge and innovation. These initiatives have reduced the digital divide and ‘brain drain’ within Europe, by ensuring access to state-of-the-art e-infrastructures for both new EU member states and those on path to ascension — in total 15 countries.
During the first half of the past decade, the South-Eastern European Research and Education Networking project (SEEREN) and the SEE-GRID project series established the first regional networking infrastructure (as well as its access to the GÉANT networkand the European Grid Infrastructure), making leading-edge technologies and services available to the entire research and education community in the region.The SEE-GRID-SCI project then ran from 2008-2010 and further empowered strategic regional research communities to make use of the e-infrastructures. Yet more recently, the South East European Research area for eInfrastructures project (SEERA-EI) brought together 10 national ministries in the region in common policy dialogue, strategy and funding planning for e-infrastructures. Finally, the HP-SEE project, which came to an end this August, has been working to establish the regional high-performance computing infrastructure, and has been supporting a wide range of research communities in its use.
Together, these south-east European initiatives have provided international broadband connectivity to millions of end-users from research and education sectors in the region, directly supporting the European Commission’s ‘Digital Agenda for Europe’. The basic networking infrastructure has provided a platform to build the regional computing grid, bringing together more than 50 computing sites, boasting thousands of processors and hundreds of terabytes of storage. National grid initiatives in 15 countries in the region have been established to support national grid developments and organization. The HP-SEE project integrates the regional high-performance computing resources in a common infrastructure, currently more than 200 teraflops, including two IBM Blue Gene/P supercomputers. This integrated electronic infrastructure has facilitated high-quality international research in a number of scientific disciplines: from meteorology, climate change, and seismology, to computational physics, chemistry, and biomedicine. This has resulted in around one hundred supported applications, and thousands of published research papers. The impact of the model for development of regional infrastructures, set up by the SEE projects, has extended beyond European borders, providing a starting point for similar EU-supported developments in the Mediterranean, Latin America, and other world regions.
“The success story of the south-east European initiatives goes beyond establishing a powerful regional e-infrastructure and enabling high-quality research over a spectrum of scientific disciplines: it extends to policy-level cooperation of the states in the region, thus aligning both technical and policy priorities — on both national and regional levels — to the long-term European vision, related to the Lisbon agenda and the Europe 2020 strategy,” says Ognjen Prnjat, coordinator of the SEE initiatives. He adds: “This has been specifically done for an under-resourced region, thus supporting social and territorial cohesion in Europe, in terms of equal opportunities”.
The actual regional infrastructures, established through the HP-SEE, SEE-GRID and SEEREN series of projects, have strengthened the ICT sector in the region by involving a number of actors in the process, from ICT staff at connected/participating institutions, to telecom providers and hardware vendors. Furthermore, the initiatives have enabled advanced research in a number of scientific fields with the provision of state-of-the-art e-infrastructures to the research-and-technical-development community. Researchers from less-resourced countries have been enabled to collaborate with their peers from both the core of Europe and the rest of the world, and have also been provided with a unique regional platform to conduct their research across borders. Research communities supported through the south-east European e-infrastructures encompass a variety of disciplines, with a hundred different applications supported, resulting in a large number of publications contributing to knowledge, society, and the economy. This has been crucial for the retention of ICT professionals and scientists in the region. The impact of the policy-level activities through the SEERA-EI project has also been significant in creating a harmonized approach to national-level initiatives in e-infrastructures. This has helped to ensure local commitment and has paved the way towards a common regional vision, strategy and sustainable cooperation, thus giving the region a common voice on both the European and international stage.
South-east European e-infrastructures are key enablers of research, education and innovation, providing extensive network connectivity and advanced computing services to the region. This underlying research infrastructure is open to the widest possible range of cross-border user communities, and is strongly supported by national governments. The inclusion of less-economically-developed regions of Europe into the wider European Research Area is an aim closely aligned to Europe’s policy of smart, sustainable and inclusive growth.Advancing ‘the Information Society’ in south-east Europe, strengthening local e-infrastructures, activating new user communities, and enabling collaborative research across a number of fields, strongly contributes to closing the existing technological and scientific gap, thus bridging the digital divide, stimulating research and consequently alleviating the brain drain in the region.