This interview is part of a series highlighting the objectives, roles and mission of GÉANT Community Programme’s special interest groups and task forces.
Claudio is a member of the Distributed Computing and Storage department at GARR, the Italian NREN, as well as a member of the Special Interest Group on Cloud Interoperable Software Stacks (SIG-CISS) and in 2022 also joined the GÉANT Community Committee (GCC). He is currently involved in the design, development and management of virtualisation infrastructures and cloud services and in the materialisation of the European Open Science Cloud (EOSC).
Before joining GARR, he has worked in R&D in the academic and industrial sectors, participating in several European research projects in the domains of computer networks, cloud/edge computing and computer security. He has also lectured in university courses, focusing on programming and networking classes. Moreover, he is active in the FLOSS (Free/Libre and Open Source Software) community and a community networks enthusiast.
Claudio, you have recently joined SIG-CISS. What do you make of the purpose and mission of the group?
According to its charter, the GÉANT special interest group on SIG-CISS “brings together those who are building/operating R&E clouds and are willing to share strategy, design, deployment, performance optimisation, application integration, interoperability, security and other related information, knowledge and best practices as well as participate in joint efforts aimed at addressing needs of academic environment related to building, operating, brokering cloud services and infrastructure and ensuring their interoperability”. In a nutshell, the members of the GÉANT community who are builders and operators of cloud services aim at making their services interoperable. The SIG-CISS helps in making this possible and at fostering knowledge exchange.
The Cloud activities across the Community of NRENs are currently focussing on two main streams of work. On one side, the GÉANT supported joint procurement activities from public cloud providers, and, on the other side, the in-house OpenStack based community cloud infrastructures built by NRENs. How do you see these two approaches working together within the Community?
My view is that both streams of work are being successful and that they are not mutually exclusive, as exemplified by NRENs which operate in both spaces. However, while procurement initiatives have a high visibility, community clouds currently tend to slip under the radar, perhaps reflecting a gap between marketing-oriented and tech-oriented people working in the clouds space.
Moreover, community clouds resonate with the GÉANT Strategy 2021-2026 and with the European Digital Sovereignty context. Indeed, community clouds provide open, transparent, innovative and trusted infrastructures in continuous development, leveraging cutting-edge technology, they foster collaboration and knowledge sharing, and by definition are supplied by the community.
On the other hand, it would be naive to think that the current community cloud offerings would be able to satisfy the size of the demand from the European R&E community, but we should also be aware of the hidden costs and the long term ramifications of resorting to commercial cloud providers.
The Community cloud activities were also discussed and developed in the one of the Tasks of the GÉANT GN4-3 project. What was your role in the project and what did the Task work on?
I was a participant in WP4 T3, i.e. the cloud offerings task. My work in the task has mainly focused on the design and deployment of the GÉANT Cloud Flow platform, which allows users to define large workflows and leverage compute resources in different countries through a unified dashboard. The task has focused also on the release of the GÉANT Multi-Cloud platform, which consists of an open-source software package, enabling end users to provision cloud services from heterogeneous providers from a self-service portal. Both the GÉANT Cloud Flow and the GÉANT Multi-Cloud software packages are now available in GitHub for public use.
In the new project phase, GN5-1, you will be joining the Cloud Strategy Board, which will liaise between the NRENs cloud activities and the project. How do you envision the Community cloud develop within this Board?
I hope that the relevance of community clouds will emerge and be embedded in a shared and harmonic cloud strategy, highlighting increasing collaboration and knowledge sharing.
SIG-CISS is proving to be a great platform for exchanging ideas, but the group is not only a forum for discussion. Can you tell us what are the use cases of interest to the Community?
Several NRENs participating in the SIG-CISS are using the same open source technologies to provide IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service, especially through OpenStack), PaaS (Platform as a Service, especially through Kubernetes) and sync and share services. These services are in turn used by institutions for workloads involving PII (Personally Identifiable Information), such as medical data, or for international collaboration, to avoid data lock-ins.
Are you thinking of further developing the business model for the Community cloud activities?
Feasible business models for community clouds are currently not explored in depth by the SIG-CISS. Talking to the NRENs operating community clouds, we agreed to focus on interoperability, on federation at the AAI level, on the exchange of knowledge and on the development of common tools. Actually, we have written a document which portrays a shared vision among NRENs operating community clouds. It is available at https://gn4-3.workplace.garr.it/sh/X5t
As expressed by the SIG-CISS charter, “Commercial clouds are different, research clouds should be similar”.
What role do you see for the Community cloud in the context of the European policies about data sovereignty and protection?
European policies and strategies are aimed at achieving autonomy in the digital field, increasing control over data produced and consumed in the EU and at enhancing innovation capacity. Moreover, concerns about the Cloud Act, the shortcomings of the Privacy Shield, and the outcome of the Schrems cases cannot be ignored. In this context, the development of Community Clouds seems to tick all the boxes.
GARR’s vision on this topic is also reflected in the article “Public Clouds: Do We (Really) Know What We are Buying”, by Claudia Battista, Director of GARR, published in CONNECT42.
And finally, what do your role and participation in the Community Programme mean for your work at GARR?
Participating in the GÉANT Community Committee and in the GÉANT Community Programme means shifting from a purely technical role to an environment which requires more soft skills, more interactions with the scientific communities and a deeper understanding of the broader context. This is both challenging and thrilling, and I hope to serve well the community.
Visit SIG-CISS wiki page to learn more about the group’s activities and stay updated on upcoming events.