Session 2: The role of FIRE and other facilities for business-driven development of internet services and applications

Evolution of FIRE: Facilities, Services and Collaboration Strategies for Sustainability: Session 2 – The role of FIRE and other facilities for business-driven development of internet services and applications. 17 March 2014, FIA2014, Athens.

Several high-tech startup types have been users and contributors to FIRE. However, commercial SMEs are also potential users of experimental platforms during their product development phases and are a key ingredient for future sustainability. FI-PPP facilities and more industrial-focused test beds are also well suited to deployment testing. Moderated by Jean-Charles Point, JCP-Connect and coordinator of FUSION, this session looked at some of the different ways in which FIRE and other facilities can evolve to support business-driven development of internet services and applications with a focus on SMEs. Donal Morris, RedZinc, an Irish SME, Dimitrios Karvounas, WING-ICT, a Greek SME, and Peter van Daele, iMinds and Fed4FIRE were on hand to offer their views, including a FIRE user story.

Donal Morris, RedZinc and FUSION gave insights into ‘SME demands related to using FIRE facilities’. FUSION has set up a portal to enable facilitation, brokering and information exchange for SMEs in relation to FIRE. "Dialogue with SMEs through ICT clusters has been the most useful form of engagement", explained Donal. FUSION has captured a detailed set of 37 requirements. One of the most important ones for FIRE to understand is the SME short time window, typically 3-6 months. FUSION has also identified a series of gaps between current FIRE offers and SME requirements. These gaps range from speed of response, product validation (not just experimentation), user experience testing (not just infrastructure) and simple engagement process (no fuss approach) to out-of-the-box service offer (not a complicated maze), especially for startups. There should be more focus on innovation and development, as well as real users. We also need to take on acceptance risk in terms of a real interest in using the solution, and not just think about technical risk.

FUSION believes that FIRE initiatives can close these gaps if they make the commitment to bringing about real changes in the way they currently operate. Firstly, FIRE open calls should use a 3-month rolling engagement cycle to address the specific needs of small businesses (startups and SMEs). Secondly, FIRE initiatives should re-package the offer so that it includes product and service testing. Thirdly, it should include real users in test beds and offer more flexibility to small businesses, for example, through Article 15 in Horizon 2020 funding. Another important move would be to build tools within test beds to reduce acceptance risk. It is paramount that we, as part of the FIRE community, make real and concerted efforts to ensure FIRE evolves towards innovation support.

Donal wrapped up by suggesting a model SME engagement template to help cover this advice from FUSION. Another insightful finding is the interest in FIRE from a public hospital, pointing to pent-up demand from an unexpected area.

Dimitrios Karvounas, Wing ICT brought into the picture an SME user story in FIRE with an experimentation on the CREW ICT test facility. CREW is focused on establishing an open federated test platform in the domains of advanced spectrum sensing, cognitive radio, cognitive networking, and spectrum sharing in licensed and unlicensed bands. WING-ICT was involved in the experiment-based validation of control channels for cognitive radio systems (EVOLVE). CREW provided the facilities to transfer WING’s solution to a real test bed. This enabled the small company to validate simulations through the test bed results, large-scale experimentation, and the development of a solution close to a real product. It was also an opportunity to work closely with CREW partners and disseminate the results at various events, including demos.

Dimitrios went on to highlight the benefits of using FIRE for SMEs. One of the main benefits is access to a real test environment under controlled conditions, enabling product testing and verifying simulation results before taking new products to market. Another benefit is feedback and support from experts, such as exchanging ideas with other users from academia, large corporations and SMEs. Last but certainly not least, affordability of experimentation, that is, no or very low cost to use.

Dimitrios wrapped up by reiterating the critical role of FIRE facilities during the research and development phase, when the product is not yet finalised. Feedback from other test bed users can help in enhancing future releases and is a key benefit.

Peter van Daele, iMinds outlined the competitive Fed4FIRE open calls for experiments with particular focus on SMEs. He also touched upon customising the offers of the i.Lab.t facility at iMinds. Because SMEs have limited means, a short timeline for innovation and very specific problems that they want to solve, it is important to lower the threshold for experimentation with FIRE. The Fed4FIRE open call for SMEs is all about doing just that. It uses a simplified proposal template and administrative procedures (experimenters join as “subcontractors”, payment is through invoicing and there are no EC-administrative procedures), as well as simplified reporting. Another way of lowering the threshold is to provide ad-hoc support through hands-on coaching, where the Fed4FIRE partner responsible for the test bed acts as a “patron”. As a result, the benefits for SME experimenters increase significantly and in different ways. Firstly, they can access a wide range of FIRE test beds. Secondly, it increases experimentation across different FIRE domains, from wireless, wired, OpenFlow to cloud computing, smart cities and services, among others. Thirdly, it ensures easy access to all the required resources with a single account. Last but certainly not least, it enables SMEs to focus on the core task of experimentation without having to learn about the different tools used in each test bed and having to request accounts for each individual testbed.

Interestingly, the approach to Fed4FIRE open calls shares several similarities with the one used by the VENUS-C project in 2011 (e-infrastructures; a user-centric approach to cloud for research and SMEs) and its links to CI-FIRE.