The European Union is advancing its grid computing plans with the launch of a new project to establish a service grid infrastructure throughout Europe for scientific and industrial research and development.

The project, dubbed Enabling Grids for E-Science in Europe (EGEE), replaces the three-year European DataGrid (EDG) project, which built test computing infrastructure to provide shared data and computing resources to the European scientific community.

The new project will build on EDG, aiming to build a reliable and secure grid infrastructure that is available 24-hours a day, according to CERN, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, which is leading the project.

"This is the EU's attempt to build a distributed computing infrastructure strategy in Europe with major funding from the EU but the dimension is truly international," said EGEE Project Leader Fabrizio Gagliardi. He has been with CERN since 1975 and also led the DataGrid project.

The EU is providing around €32 million (US$39.4 million) over the first two years of the project, which will match funds that are expected to be provided by the project participants, Gagliardi said. Total funding is expected to be about €30 million to €40 million a year for the first two years, he added.

Participants include the Council for the Central Laboratory of the Research Councils in the UK, France's National Centre of Scientific Research and the Russian Institute of Theoretical and Experimental Physics. But in addition to the host of European participants, the project is being supported by key research organisations in the U.S., such as the University of Chicago, Gagliardi said, opening the door for taking the project to a global scale.

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"In the future, we are looking to extend support in emerging areas of Europe and in South East Asia," Gagliardi said. He added that they are particularly keen to get involvement from Japan, where a local grid project is gaining steam.

So far, the project is being laid out on a two-year basis and plans for additional funding and goals will be set based on the progress made at the end of that term.

Within two years, Gagliardi hopes to build a grid with the computing power of 15,000 to 20,000 aggregated processors serving some 3,000 users.

"At the end of the day, we want to deliver much more cost-effective use of capacity to serve a community that is constrained by local resources now," he said.

Gagliardi compared the EGEE project to the creation of World Wide Web, which also took shape at CERN.

"At the time the Web started, no one could see what dimensions that would take. It's the same thing with grid computing - it can offer to share computing power just like the Web offers to share information."

The EDG software is already being used in the high energy physics, biomedical and earth observation fields, and has been approved by the Open Source Initiative Corporation, making it an internationally recognised open source licence.

Gagliardi said that the software developed from EDG will be used to build the new grid. "We are going to leverage many previous projects, take the software, re-engineer it to a new quality and build a grid that is available 24 hours a day," he said.