The University of Southampton

Building trust and validation into distributed computer networks

Published: 30 January 2006

The School of Electronics and Computer Science is a leading partner in a European research project which will build trust and validation into distributed computer networks. The EU Provenance project will enable users of Grids—networks of computers at distributed locations–to understand the process by which a particular result was generated. This is fundamental to many real-life applications in science, engineering, medicine, and supply chain management. Indeed, without such reliable background information, users cannot reproduce, analyse or validate processes or experiments. Provenance will provide a documented history for information generated and managed within a Grid infrastructure. This means that the information, especially the results of processes or modifications, can be inspected, validated and reasoned about by authorised users who need to be sure that information controls have not been altered or abused. ‘Ultimately we are building trust, proof and validation into Grids,’ says Steve Munroe, EU Provenance Exploitation Manager in ECS, ‘enabling users to have the highest levels of confidence in the information available. ‘Grids operate by dynamically creating services at opportunistic moments to satisfy the needs of a particular user,’ he explains. ‘These services may belong to different stakeholders operating under various different policies about information sharing. It’s therefore crucially important that the results generated by such a composition of services can be trusted by the user. But when the services disband, how can we verify the processes that contributed to the final result?’ As an example, he points to organ transplant management, which must obey a variety of regulations imposed by different governing bodies. ‘Provenance can be used to determine that a given process has adhered to the necessary regulations,’ says Munroe, ‘thus enabling the end user to place trust in the results received.’ Provenance has already produced a first public version of software requirements for the provenance architecture, covering both the logical and process architectures of provenance systems. The process architecture developed by the project is generic, in the sense that a core set of functionality that any industrial strength provenance architecture should have has been identified and designed. Translating this to a real-world instance, such as aerospace engineering or organ transplant management, then involves implementing the logical architecture, as well as extensive interactions with experts to integrate the system with target domain applications. The EU Provenance project partners are: School of Electronics and Computer Science, University of Southampton; IBM UK Ltd; Cardiff University (Welsh eScience Centre); Deutsches Zentrum fur Luft - und Raumfahrt s.V, Universitat Politechica de Catalunya; and the Computer and Automation Institute of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences; the EU Provenance Project Architect is Professor Luc Moreau of ECS. ‘We also are developing a methodology that will facilitate the development of provenance-aware systems in other domains,’ adds Munroe, ‘and we aim to develop preliminary standardisation proposals for provenance systems to submit to the relevant standardisation bodies.’

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