On 17 July, deputy director of the European Grid Infrastructure, Catherine Gater and project coordinator of e-Science Talk, was at the XSEDE'12 conference, in the Windy City, aka Chicago, to hear the update from XSEDE's principal investigator about the breadth of scientific, technical, and social aspects of cyberinfrastructure, or e-infrastructure, as it's known in Europe.
During the XSEDE'12 conference in mid-July, the temperature outside climbed to a baking 100 degrees while the atmosphere in the opening plenary for XSEDE'12 remained cool, calm, and collected. John Towns, principal investigator for XSEDE, talked us through the progress since the final Teragrid event last summer in Salt Lake City (also slightly on the warm side if I remember). Towns reminded us how XSEDE provides a variety of resources and services for multidisciplinary science, offering a comprehensive cyberinfrastructure through heterogeneous resources and services. XSEDE is based on the premise that the needs of the community are best served by a small number of centres - not a fully centralized model, but not fully decentralized either.
Since Teragrid, the focus has been on productivity and creating the environment which users need to be productive. The project has come round to the idea that it must define a solution which is designed to evolve, by identifying the greatest needs and starting there. As a 121 million dollar (100 million euros) project, funding 120 full-time equivalents over 17 partners, XSEDE also has to deal with the interesting problem that funding for the actual hardware is not included in this figure - a not uncommon problem for Europe e-infrastructures as well.
Nevertheless, the impacts of XSEDE's first year have been substantial, with the cyberinfrastructure supporting nearly 2,000 projects for 8,700 distinct users, funded across 32 National Science Foundation divisions and leading to 1,800 publications. The transition from the Teragrid infrastructure to the XSEDE set up has proved seamless, with the user support service now supporting new architectures and disciplines.
Campus bridging across continents
This has also been supported by development of the human capital, a theme that is also very strong in Europe, through certificate and education degree programs. Stronger campus-based communities have emerged, with successful users acting as bridgeheads into their communities. The user now has a stronger voice within the project through the new user advisory committee. "This is useful for those trying to get their work done," said Towns.
Campus bridging is gradually bringing 'virtual proximity' to users, aiming to provide integration between campus workstations and the XSEDE cyberinfrastructure. These efforts are bringing their own challenges of course - bridging takes the technology in new innovative directions, but this can lead to disruption when the main aim is to provide stable production services. "It's an ongoing challenge to innovate in this environment," said Towns. "We aim to support innovation both by partners within the project, but also within the community at large."
XSEDE is building bridges not only between campuses and users, but also with other cyberinfrastructures. Open Science Grid is the US's premier high throughput computing infrastructure and is now formally an XSEDE service provider, which should ultimately lead to better integration. XSEDE and its closest European equivalent, the high-performance computing network PRACE, already run highly over-subscribed joint summer schools.
On 17 July 2012, they released a joint call for Expressions of Interest from US and European researchers who would like to work together using both sets of resources. Dying to work with your colleagues across the pond (whichever side you happen to be on)?
And, if you liked this feature then you can read other stories written by Catherine Gater about XSEDE'12 on the Gridcast blog.