RETHINKing Europe’s strategy for big data at the project’s first working group meeting

Thursday, October 30, 2014

With the aim of harnessing the expertise of key stakeholders in hardware, networking and algorithms for the processing of big data, RETHINK big organized an initial working group meeting, hosted by the Universidad Politecnica de Madrid (Technical University of Madrid) on 18 and 19 September 2014. The objectives were to identify and discuss challenges across European big-data sectors, as well as to identify key strategists within each organization.

Exterior of the Facultad de la Informática at UPM with flags RETHINK big registration table

Prior to the meeting, participants were asked to complete a survey on challenges in the field of big data; the highest-ranking results were then used as the basis for the brainstorming sessions. The meeting itself attracted an impressive turnout of 70 participants from 49 organizations, 38 of whom were external experts identified by the project as being able to offer a valuable contribution to the debate. The balance between sectors represented by participants was firmly in line with the project’s objectives, with 19% coming from academic backgrounds or research institutions, 16% from small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and 12% from large companies, as well as 2% from projects. A total of 14 countries were represented.

Participant reading programme before start of working group meeting Gina Alioto presenting during the first plenary
Adrián Cristal introducing the working group meeting at UPM Audience during the first plenary

On the first day, following an introduction by the project coordinators and a keynote presentation by John Goodacre of ARM Ltd. and Anastasia Ailamaki of the École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), participants were split into small groups, each representing a different sector. Their task was to identify and evaluate a) challenges across European big-data application domains and b) technological advancements, prioritizing those which demonstrated most potential for improving big-data processing over the next five years.

With such a mix of participants, the potential for miscommunication was high, and the meeting therefore sought to establish a common language. To this end, a structured brainstorming method was used to facilitate communication across sector, disciplinary and cultural boundaries, while the discussions in small groups were intended to make everyone feel comfortable in sharing their perspective. Participants were asked to provide concrete, practical and measurable examples which were real rather than hypothetical, and to communicate them in objective, rather than subjective, language. The results from the lively, engaged debates that ensued were then shared in the plenary session at the end of the day.

Group led by John Goodacre of ARM at working group meeting Group led by Gunnar Klau on Life Science at the working group meeting
Group led by David Fauré at the working group meeting Group led by Stefan Manegold at the working group meeting

Once these issues had been identified by groups of participants working in similar areas, on the second day hardware and software representatives were brought together in groups, with the aim of understanding the benefits and trade-offs of applying various technological solutions to these challenges. Participants were asked to prioritize some of the key problems facing Europe identified by the survey, before considering how Europe should respond to these issues and the timeframe required to do so. Once again, each small group presented its findings to the full assembly.

Large white paper on wall with "Which BD HW and Networking.related technical weaknesses or problems prevent you from carrying out your business successfully or keep you up at night?" written on it and post-it notes below Group participants, one of whom holding a marker pen, next to white board with post-it notes
Group participants writing at desks and putting post-its on white paper on wall Post-it notes on wall:  "The security of a network is as good as its weakest node" "By hacking the connected firdge you can control the whole house" "Technological development is largely driven by economics" "Gina and my mum need a defree in comp. sc. to program scalable clustering" "I cannot perform deep semantic analysis for almost any other language than English" "Business cost of storing data is increasing" "I can't get a (stratified) sample from huge SQL database"

RETHINK big would like to thank all of the experts who attended for their contributions, which have been invaluable in taking the first steps towards the project roadmap.

RETHINK big working group meeting participants - group photo

Interested in participating in a RETHINK big working group? Find out more and contact the project coordinator – email:  

More photos from the day can be found in our RETHINK big WG Meeting 18-19 September 2014 Flickr album

You can download presentations from the day below.