Cyberinfrastructure: Worth the Slog?

If what I’ve been reading over the past few days has any validity to it at all, there will continue to be increasing interest in cyberinfrastructure (CI). Moreover, this interest will come from an increasingly broader demographic.

At this point, you might be asking yourself what, exactly, is cyberinfrastructure. The Atkins Report defines CI this way:

The term infrastructure has been used since the 1920s to refer collectively to the roads, power grids, telephone systems, bridges, rail lines, and similar public works that are required for an industrial economy to function. … The newer term cyberinfrastructure refers to infrastructure based upon distributed computer, information, and communication technology. If infrastructure is required for an industrial economy, then we could say that cyberinfrastructure is required for a knowledge economy. [p. 5]

[Cyberinfrastructure] can serve individuals, teams and organizations in ways that revolutionize what they can do, how they do it, and who participates. [p. 17]

If this definition leaves you wanting, don’t feel too bad, as anyone whom I’ve ever spoken to on the topic feels the same way. What doesn’t help is that the Atkins Report, and others I’ve referred to below, also bandy about terms like e-Science, Grid Computing, Service Oriented Architectures (SOAs), etc. Add to these newer terms such as Cooperative Computing, Network-Enabled Platforms plus Cell Computing and it’s clear that the opportunity for obfuscation is about all that’s being guaranteed.

Consensus on the inadequacy of the terminology aside, there is also consensus that this is a very exciting time with very interesting possibilities.

So where, pragmatically, does this leave us?

Until we collectively sort out the terminology, my suggestion is that the time is ripe for immediate immersion in what cyberinfrastructure and the like might feel like or are. In other words, I highly recommend reviewing the sources cited below in order:

  1. The Wikipedia entry for cyberinfrastructure – A great starting point with a number of references that is, of course, constantly updated.
  2. The Atkins Report – The NSF’s original CI document.
  3. Cyberinfrastructure Vision for 21st Century Discovery – A slightly more concrete update from the NSF as of March 2007.
  4. Community-specific content – There is content emerging on the intersection between CI and specific communities, disciplines, etc. These frontiers are helping to better define the transformative aspects and possibilities for CI in a much-more concrete way.

Frankly, it’s a bit of a slog to wade through all of this content for a variety of reasons …

Ultimately, however, I believe it’s worth the undertaking at the present time as the possibilities are very exciting.

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2 responses to “Cyberinfrastructure: Worth the Slog?”

  1. John Dupuis says :

    I don’t know if you’ve seen it yet, but the latest issue of CTWatch Quarterly is out.

    http://www.ctwatch.org/quarterly/

  2. Ian Lumb says :

    Thanks for sharing this very appropriate pointer, John! This issue of CTWatch Quarterly, “Software Enabling Technologies for Petascale Science”, will likely need to be added to list of required reading.

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