Interview with Maciej Stroiński Ph. D., Project manager of PLATON Science Services Platform

What is PLATON, is the association with the Athenian philosopher, founder of idealism intended?

PLATON is the fulfillment of dreams of people involved in the science infrastructure, the dreams about the availability of the services integrated with the network and aimed at assisting the scientific community. Yet in June 2000, when PIONIER project - Polish Optical Internet - Advanced Applications, Services and Technologies for the Information Society - was approved, the applications and services that support the so-called e-Science constituted the significant part of it. The project ended up, mainly, with a very modern PIONIER fiber optic network. However, the services remained in the sphere of dreams, because of the lack of funds. Only aproject that is being implemented under the Innovative Economy Operational Program helped , in the end, to relate those expectations in the form of five basic services that can be added to PIONIER and metropolitan networks. The common name for these services is the Platform of Science Services which [in Polish, as an acronym]  stands for PLATON. Of course it is associated with the Greek philosopher, and this association is to give a new philosophy of looking at computer networks. We do not discuss them anymore in the category of fiber optic km, backbone bandwidth, whether it is 10, 40 or 100 Gigabit, and look at the network through a range of capabilities and services. We want this changed perception of the network, as related to services, to become a common way of looking at the network.

You said that these services have been selected, that these are the basic services and that it is only apart. Why did these five services appear in the PLATON Project, is there any current, pressing need, or is it the evolution of the tools that have already been used so far?

I would say that this is a pressing time need to which we have come through the experimentation with the tools of the previous generations. That's why they are the base as they are associated with the expectation of scientist’s access to network services "always and everywhere" and in a "broadband" way. It forces us to look for the new technologies. In fact, we are in the area of the two technologies: fiber-optic network technology and wireless WiFi network. In this environment, we would like to make this access trouble-free, easy, fast. On the other hand – it needs to be authorized, and also we should be able to access it in every place, for example, during a business trip. The spread of eduroam service in the scientific community is revolutionary for the research process. A scientist receives asimple and direct access to the virtual world, together with the applications, laboratories, and, of course, the global Internet in "always and everywhere" mode. Eduroam is, therefore, present not only at the campuses of research units involved in its implementation, but also in some wireless networks built by local governments, available, for instance, in public places. The attempt to have the convenience of not leaving when you need to work together is a video conferencing system, the one that takes place in a natural way, without jams, in the everyday environment. But we are talking about HD video conferencing, of the high quality, because only this kind of conference is similar to what we have in life naturally. It's one of those services which alter permanently the possibility of mutual communication. Their characteristic is the high quality exchange of information with the possibility of presentation and interaction. They can, therefore, be used in a broadly defined process of scientific research, for instance as a group work tool. The examples of such professional applications can concern the medicine or education, which, thanks to the popularity of usage of tools of this class, will be able to pursue new challenges. We already have  an innovative progress in relation to what was before in the area of these two basic communication services.

Other services are held on the "back-office network", one could jokingly say that these services are from "the wall". It is an application on demand, the operating system on demand – the services performed very efficiently, with a high degree of safety, because they are based on the network virtualization and resource virtualization, where the environment is built dynamically during the user’s session. They enable scientists to access the applications and software only when it is required and make them independent from the tedious license management and computing. They are based on the use of innovative virtualization technology of computing environment, and cloud computing. In the same way, we provide the archiving services in the network, the ability to store, protect data and secure test results in a location most convenient for the user. Its tight integration in terms of the functionality of the network, allows for both safe and efficient access to the data collected.  The research laboratory for the area of the so-called. " Content Aware Network " arising in that framework is also a chance to achieve the challenge of digital storage of Polish cultural heritage.

In terms of the fifth service - this is arevolution, or, actually - the first step in the network revolution, as such a network becomes a completely new medium, the space for the dissemination of universal services such as radio and television. In this case, we build a scientific system of Internet TV. It allows you to document and promote the research, illustrate the possibility of innovative applications and implementations, the creation of a community sharing the knowledge about science, about the conduct of research, the importance of innovation in the studies, etc. Every section of this TV has a broadband transmission, two-way and  simultaneous. Anyone can receive it in High Definition, but also anyone can broadcast it in HD. If each recipient may also be a source of data for this TV, we can look at this TV otherwise - it is an interactive TV, with the content created by the participants in an interactive manner.

Of course, this is a vision which we will achieve in the future, but we have an environment in which this type of experimentation and research will be conducted. The great value of this service is also its national dimension, which involves all centers of academic life in the process of building a pacemaker of modernization. Thanks to this, a "living" laboratory of the networks of the new generation of interactive media is being implemented to create the future models, three-dimensional (3D) TV and the media of a quality higher than HD (e. g, four times - 4K, eight times - 8K).

So, in a nutshell, the well-known concepts of a TV, video conferencing and archiving hide more possibilities of innovation than ever before ...

Yes, absolutely yes. This is a new innovative approach to certain features that have been already known. However, only when we give them such a dimension in terms of transmission, in terms of quality and capabilities of scalable, universal use, it creates a completely new solution. A solution that will serve the scientific community, but which also has areference dimension for many applications in the areas of social mission, such as e-Education, e-Health, e-Administration - these are the areas where the implementation of the research, which is realized in PLATON may be transferred and disseminated in a beautiful way, with a very good effect on the society.

Wouldn’t you agree, that one of the essential features of PLATON is the scale of innovation progress of the project, the universal (as we can even say) scale of coverage of these services?

The scalability of solutions that we do in PLATON on the basis of PIONIER network is the key, one of the requirements that we assumed as necessary to build this platform. The commonality of our services for the scientific community is guaranteed by our partners, 22 Leading Units, providing the access for the entire scientific community in Poland to Metropolitan Area Networks (MANs) and computers of high performance computing. All of these units provide for the universal access of the research community to the network, and they are also responsible for the dissemination of this service in their area. They are also required to develop this service within 5 years of project completion. Hence, this is a continuous process.

What is the further step, as I understand that PLATON is not the end in terms of the approach to the network?

At the beginning of this conversation Ihave used the terms: "basic" services. Basic communication services and network use services, which means the ability to perform computations, to gain the access to the software, the storage of data, they are all basic functions, just like scientific HD TV. A number of processes, as well as higher-level tools, for example, virtual laboratories, will require the computations, communication, the record of what happens. Therefore, the current services will form the basis for  the knowledge  accumulating platforms that will be shared by the research teams.

How do you manage such a big project, PLATON?

PLATON involves dozens or even hundreds of people from 22 centers scattered across Poland ... We are able to do it, although it is not an easy task. We built a matrix structure of management. Iam the manager of the project, but three persons responsible for particular areas help me in these activities. The substantive action, in particular, the coordination of these activities with purchases and tender plans, is aresponsibility of the substantive coordinator - Robert Pękal. The financial affairs of the whole project are in the scope of the economic coordinator, Aleksandra Nowaczyk. PLATON PR is a responsibility of Wojciech Bohdanowicz. We have a local substantive coordinator and local financial coordinator in each of the partners. Each service has its own manager, who oversees the process of its implementation; he is assisted by the deputy. I think this is the right moment to thank all those who work in PLATON project and perform these important functions and wish them success and job satisfaction. Let it all work well.

Thank you.