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Feature - Australians launch new Compute Cloud

Feature - Australians launch new Compute Cloud

Image courtesy of ilco.

With the launch of their new Compute Cloud last month, the Australian Research Collaboration Service aims to bring user friendly grid and cloud computing to a whole new level.

"For the high-power HPC users, people who want to use all the features, GRISU provides a graphical user interface," said Jim McGovern, a systems services manager at ARCS.

ARCS' grid service GRISU, which sits atop Globus, provides Australian researchers and their colleagues with access to over 18,000 cores distributed across the nation. The Compute Cloud provides another layer, ultimately connecting researchers to the same resources GRISU accesses.

The Compute Cloud, McGovern explained, is ideally suited for less advanced users using standard packages.

As computational power has increased, computational methods have likewise become increasingly feasible for scientific disciplines not traditionally connected with grids, clouds, or HPC. Many of those researchers face a steep learning curve to access computational resources, as things currently stand.

"They're used to a point-and-click world where they want things to work fairly easily," McGovern said. "You can't go to a bunch of bioinformaticians and geologists and expect them to write in a scripting language."

Click on the image to see a larger version.

Image courtesy of iVEC.

What's in a name?

Credentialing grid or cloud users in a secure fashion is a major issue. But as resource providers around the world have been discovering, if security measures aren't user-friendly, users with relatively little tech savvy will give up before they even get started. Grid certificates are one example of a process that is sufficiently complex that many domain-specific grids report losing new users who can't be bothered with the hassle of the process.

"It's good for science and good for research if we can get them away from their desktops and into HPC," McGovern said.

That's why choosing the right identity provision system was crucial.

"They're using their own university credentials," McGovern explained.

Those credentials are in turn managed by the Australian Access Federation. Similar solutions, such as InCommon or VIVO, exist in other parts of the world.

An unusual approach

Unlike most clouds, the Australian Compute Cloud does not use virtualization to create instances of virtual machines. Instead, it provides software-as-a-service.

"We've reduced the number of inputs and standardized the running of applications," McGovern said.

The Compute Cloud comes with the most common applications installed and ready to run. The ARCS team is open to installing other popular packages, so long as the rights can be obtained legally.

The ARCS grid interface, GRISU, is not without its unusual innovations. GRISU has a templating tool that allows researchers to automatically generate a graphical user interface.

What next? Eventually, McGovern said, GRISU and the Compute Cloud will probably merge. In the meantime, ARCS will continue to maintain, refine, and expand the capabilities of the Compute Cloud and GRISU.

-Miriam Boon, iSGTW

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