iSGTW Feature - Behind the scenes with Mission Control: project managing massive grid projects

Feature - Behind the scenes with Mission Control: project managing massive grid projects

Some of the faces that keep grid projects rolling ahead.
Images courtesy of Open Science Grid and EGEE

Behind every megabyte there is a mega-bit of teamwork.

And behind every data delivery there is a project deliverable.

Who coordinates these distributed computing projects, with their distributed partners and distributed priorities?

iSGTW heads to Mission Control to find out.

Chander Sehgal - Project Associate for Open Science Grid

Anna Cook - Project Administration for Enabling Grids for E-sciencE

Chander Sehgal: "We have a shared mission, and that's where the power of this collaboration comes from."
Images courtesy of Open Science Grid

Chander Sehgal - Open Science Grid

What is your role with OSG?

I joined Open Science Grid in January 2007 and handle OSG's project and budget management. We're a medium-sized project employing several dozen people, and there are currently 17 institutions directly contributing to the design, evolution and operation of the OSG facility. Having a central point to plan our work program and coordinate execution makes the project run smoother. That's me… I serve as that central focal point.

What are the challenges involved in project managing OSG?

Coordinating the work of a geographically distributed team is always a challenge. We're all working on OSG, but all the institutions are also working on other projects and sometimes have other priorities. So we've learned to put tools in place to make it easier for such a team to collaborate effectively and report their progress easily. It's also a challenge to mesh together the talents available as efficiently as possible, so when an obstacle or technical problem comes up we can tap into the expertise, wherever it may be.

It's all too easy for project management to be viewed as a burden, but we're trying hard to be the catalyst that can help solve issues. And we help represent the great work of the team to our external stakeholders and funding agencies. There's a reason for our institutions to work with me: I can provide a net benefit to what they're trying to do.

What have you been working on recently?

I've been working with the institutions to put together the OSG Year 2 work plan: working out what we are trying to get done; who's going to do what; and then putting budgets in place to support the various teams. Our focus areas for next year will include operations stability, usability, better metrics, improved data management and strengthened customer support.

What are the highlights of your role with OSG?

OSG is a team effort that leverages a powerful and diverse set of experts. I can propose things and ask the various institutions to help improve how we accomplish our work. I am always amazed by the degree of support we get. We have a shared mission, and that's where the power of this collaboration comes from.

I also get to see what's going on throughout the whole project. Project management can be frustrating, but having insight into the big picture, working with all these people and learning so much…these things make it all worthwhile.

- Chander Sehgal, Open Science Grid


Anna Cook (front) with two members of the Project Office, France Couchoux (left) and Dita Mocova. "I really enjoy the huge range of people I work with. Diversity is our greatest asset. "
Images courtesy of EGEE

Anna Cook - Enabling Grids for E-sciencE

What is your role with EGEE?

I've managed the EGEE Project Office and project administration since EGEE's first phase in 2004. At that stage EGEE had 70 partners from 27 countries with a further 30-odd institutes participating. Now, with EGEE II, we have 91 partners and 48 affiliated institutes from 32 countries. The project office is the central channel for the project, a.k.a, Mission Control.

What are the challenges involved in project managing EGEE?

Diversity is our greatest asset, and also one of our greatest challenges. In the Project Office alone we have representatives from Austria, the Czech Republic, France, Italy, Malawi, Martinique, the Philippines, Portugal, Sweden, the United Kingdom…that's 15 people speaking a variety of languages. English is the common working language, but you have to be amenable to every culture.

Working with partners in so many countries has its own challenges. We manage potential issues with time zones and languages by creating federations: geographical clusters of countries with nominated representatives for administration and management. We're grateful that everyone is so flexible.

Setting up good communication methods and being accessible is also essential. Partners need to feel they can come directly to us.

Bureaucracy is everybody's bugbear; we're here to make it palatable. We have set up a lot of tools, procedures and guidelines, aiming for simplification and smooth progress. For example, EGEE II has two official reporting periods, but we've broken these down into quarterly internal reports to troubleshoot before the real thing. Financial reports, technical progress reports… We make sure the project has what it needs to be successful in EU terms.

What have you been working on recently?

We've been putting together a proposal for the third phase-EGEE III-which will be a stepping stone to long-term sustainability and the European Grid Initiative. Ultimately each country will be represented by its own national grid initiative.

The proposed EGEE III will hopefully be funded under the European Commission's 7th Framework Program, which implies new rules and guidelines. We're there to make it easier for partners to work with these new rules, to make sure everyone has all the information they need in a manageable format.

What are the highlights of your role with EGEE?

I really enjoy the huge range of people I work with, and what I most look forward to is conferences, where we can actually meet face-to-face. Human contact is a most vital thing. You build relationships through emails, so when you finally meet the people it's like you already know them.

- Anna Cook, EGEE