written by Andrey Melnikov – Embassy of Switzerland in Russia
Mega-grants are considerable funding provided on a tender basis by the Government of the Russian Federation to offer state support to the scientific research led by world-famous scientists in Russian universities, research institutes and centers. This program was started back in 2010. Very often such grants are awarded to former Russian/Soviet scientists working currently abroad, S. Smirnov for example, and foreign top-notch researchers like Osamu Shimomura and George F. Smoot. One of the program’s goals is to create research laboratories capable of competing with the world leading institutions, thus creating conditions required to improve the professional quality of the faculty and research specialists of Russian institutions and encourage young people to pursue professional development. In 2014-2016 the research carried out in 23 Russian universities will be supported by such mega-grants.
Russian Mega Grants to Support Big Data Projects
About two years ago one of the mega-grants worth $3.4 million was awarded by the Russian Ministry of Education and Science to Aleksey Klimentov, a Russian physicist working at the Brookhaven National Laboratory, US Department of Energy. The researcher is tasked to develop new “big data” computing tools for so called mega-science. The project is built on the success of a workload and data management system developed by Mr. Klimentov and his team to process huge volumes of data from the ATLAS experiment at the LHC. His US laboratory is the lead for the ATLAS experiment and hosts the Tier-1 computing center for data processing, storage and archiving.
This is a three-year project/grant (2014-2016) with a possible extension for two years. Klimentov’s “BigData Technologies Laboratory” is being created at the Center of Nano-, Bio- and Information Technologies of the National Research Center “Kurchatov Institute” which is the lead Russian organization involved in research at the LHC, FAIR, XFEL and RHIC. The Russian Institute will host a Tier-1 center for three LHC experiments (ATLAS, ALICE and LHCb) and will provide its computational infrastructure to develop, code and implement software for a novel “big data” management system that has no analog in science or industry.
In addition to Kurchatov Institute, the following Russian universities are also participating in the project:
- Moscow Engineering Physics Institute;
- Moscow State University (Skobeltsin Institute of Nuclear Physics and Center of National Intellectual reserve);
- National University of Information Technologies, Mechanics and Optics in St. Petersburg
The new tool will be complementary to the system developed by Brookhaven physicist Torre Wenaus and physicist Kaushik De of the University of Texas (Arlington) which is called PanDA (Production and Distributed Analysis) and is used for processing ATLAS data. According to Aleksey Klimentov, “the increasing capabilities to collect, process analyze and extract knowledge are pushing the boundaries of many areas of modern science and technology; this grant recognizes how the computing tools we developed can find widespread application in many other fields in and beyond Physics”.
The First University Chair for Big Data Established in Russia
In an attempt to reform the national ERI system the Russian Government is trying to bring together education and research (traditionally these areas were separated in the Soviet Union – education was done at universities while research was implemented by research institutions, the Russian Academy of Sciences for example). One of the measures aimed at solving this problem was the creation of so called Federal Universities, at the moment there are ten of them all over the country. The universities are tasked to become education and research centers in their respective regions and increase the competitiveness of research personnel in the break-through areas of science.
Established in 2013, the Big Data Chair of the Ural Federal University (URFU) is mainly focused on data mining and big data analytics in crucial economic spheres, given the regional specialization, such as metallurgical engineering (optimization of technological production processes) and railroad transportation (innovative modelling and optimization of transportation processes). Professors and researchers of the Chair have since been working on projects supporting the targeted federal programs financed by the Ministry of Education and Science of Russia. Mathematical methods utilized in these projects include deep data mining, graph optimization algorithms and video analytics including digital image processing.
April 2015 marked for URFU a new stage in the development of its – so far the only – Big Data Chair: Teradata Corporation (NYSE: TDC), the big data analytics and marketing applications company and URFU announced that the delivery and deployment of the Teradata Aster Big Analytics Appliance 3H, an innovative platform for big data analytics and discovery, have been completed to enable the work of the URFU Big Data Chair.
According to Damir Gainanov, Head of the Big Data Analysis and Methodology Chair at URFU: “Establishing a university chair centered on big data research with federal government support was an important step for making analytics an integral part of the research for the key branches of the Russian economy. With the analytics capabilities of Teradata Aster, we will be able to derive insights from data and come up with concepts to help advance the competitiveness of numerous key industries”.
In spite of the fact that Russia is a country with highly reputable programmers and developed technology it keeps a watchful eye on the world leaders in research and innovation, and is trying to keep pace with them.
Though big data projects are usually business driven, the role of the government is also important in Russia. Being the biggest investor in the research area (the state budget funds 70.3% of R&D Russia), as well as given the importance of the big data issue, the government spends considerable sums to attract top-notch researchers, as well as to support cooperation of universities with leading companies in big data processing and applications, thus creating the necessary infrastructure.
The fact that the focus is given to universities clearly testifies that the government is interested in raising new generations of researchers capable of working and improving the country’s stand in the IT field. It looks like the most advanced infrastructure complemented by professional research staff are going to be a good basis for further development.