The Tech Center at the Heart of Europe
Luxembourg’s new high-performance computing and big data ecosystem promises to transform how Europe uses the cloud.
By Bill Cannon, May 15, 2017
Long before technologist Björn Ottersten went to Luxembourg, the country came to him over the airwaves. As a teenager in Sweden, Ottersten — who now directs the University of Luxembourg’s Interdisciplinary Centre for Security, Reliability and Trust (SnT) — would sit up late listening to pop music on a radio station from Luxembourg. “The country was really the first in Europe to deregulate broadcast communication,” he says. “And today, RTL, Radio Television Luxembourg, is the biggest broadcaster in Europe.”
Rather than wait decades for another industry to grow organically and spill over to the rest of the continent, Luxembourg is positioning itself as the center of a new kind of broadcasting industry: big data. In 2016, the Ministry of the Economy announced that the country would be developing “a pan-European HPC [high-performance computing] and big-data ecosystem” that will allow data transfer across borders and the use of “a set of innovative smart software applications.”
The plan, called the IPCEI (for “important project of common European interest”), will set up network and test applications — including ones for industries such as finance and transportation — around Luxembourg, which takes a leading role, and its IPCEI founding-partner nations: France, Italy and Spain. The project is part of a larger, €6.7 billion European Union effort, the European Cloud Initiative.
Jorge Sanz, on leave from his role as director of National University of Singapore’s Business Analytics Center and FinTech applied researcher with more than 20 years in Silicon Valley, will set up shop at the Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology. He describes the cloud “as an economic pillar, not a technology — a distribution mechanism of services lowering the cost for every organization to participate in new economic ecosystems.”
He likens the coming information service age to the electrical grid, but rather than delivering power, the network would deliver intelligence to support decision-making on demand. “Imagine you could extract things that you need for your own industry application the way you plug in a lamp at home,” Sanz says. “It’s a different way of consuming, billing and paying than what we do today.”
He adds, “This service network is the new intelligent infrastructure for differentiation in a country. Fibers and computing are no longer the digital infrastructure that matters to economic growth.”
Ottersten notes that Luxembourg’s government has a long history of supporting information communications technology, and, he says, it has identified the industry as an important area to diversify the economy. Today, global brands like Amazon or PayPal are operating out of Luxembourg.
Luxembourg government officials “started by investing in infrastructure, the communications networks — optical-fiber backbone and access networks,” Ottersten explains. “Luxembourg has one of the world’s highest penetrations of fiber to the home, and a lot of data centers have grown up as a consequence.” Luxembourg also has Europe’s highest concentration of tier IV data centers, which are the largest and most secure. And that infrastructure will continue to help to spur private investment in research.
The University of Luxembourg’s Interdisciplinary Centre for Security, Reliability and Trust also fuels R&D in Luxembourg. For example, its scientists collaborate with experts at 32 private and public organizations, and the technology transfer office focuses on turning research into innovative realities across the country.
As Ottersten says, “The future of the economy is very much going to be data driven, and Luxembourg wants to be perceived as a safe and secure place to put your data and your data-based services.”
Luxembourg’s Innovation Is Out of This World was created by Scientific American Custom Media, a division separate from its board of editors, working in partnership with the Luxembourg Ministry of the Economy, the Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology, and the Luxembourg National Research Fund.