iSGTW Feature - A conversation with TeraGrid's Dane Skow

Feature - A conversation with TeraGrid's Dane Skow

"There is nothing like seeing what you've done result in improvement for the nation and the world. This keeps me motivated. This wonderful synergy energizes us all." Dane Skow.
Image courtesy of Danielle Venton

Last week at TeraGrid '07 iSGTW sat down with director of TeraGrid's Grid Infrastructure Group, Dane Skow, to discuss the current state of TeraGrid and his hopes for its future.

iSGTW: Thank you for sitting down with us, Dane. First, can you review for our readers the current state of TeraGrid's activity?

Dane Skow: Certainly. We are now comprised of nine resource providers, spread across the United States, all funded by the National Science Foundation. We now have over 280 teraflops worth of computing capability, over 30 petabytes of data storage, and over 25 different resources that we allocate through a national peer review process.

The user community has continued to grow over the past year; we've doubled the integrated user population. There are now over 3,200 users with direct access to TeraGrid. And one of the most exciting things has been the ability for people to access the TeraGrid through the TeraGrid Science Gateways. We've seen a rapid increase through that channel-in the most recent quarter there were over 500 people coming in to the TeraGrid through the Gateways channel.

Dane Skow delivers his address on the state of TeraGrid at TeraGrid '07 last week.
Image courtesy of Marijke Unger at NCAR

iSGTW: Where would TeraGrid like to be in the next three years?

DS: We have our sights on growth and improvement in a number of avenues. First, we are now an operational facility. So we will work for continuous improvement in reliability, ease of use, and integration of our current capabilities.

We will also be growing and increasing our resources. We're anticipating the inclusion of a very large new single compute facility [Ranger] in Texas next January. When added, that single machine will more than double the entire capacity of TeraGrid.

We heard a talk this morning from Phil Maechling about the folks at the Southern California Earthquake Center, who have come to us with multiple projects that could use tens of millions of CPU hours. In the current environment, that is an unmanageable share of the resources. So we are looking at a road map in the near future that would let us address problems of that scale.

And, even better, there is a commitment in the National Science Foundation to a four-year program of annual increases and refreshes of new hardware.

Also, we are starting to have more concrete discussions with our partner grids about techniques of federation. We would like to take the initial pilot activities that began in 2006 and move them closer to production phase. By doing this, we are working to promote internationalization of science, for collaboration beyond the regions and domains working together currently.

iSGTW: We've been hearing a lot about "transformative science." Can you tell us what this buzzword means?

DS: "Transformative science" has two aspects, both of which we are striving for. The first aspect is a transformation in the science and the available tools. In many cases scientists are limited by resources and are not able to address problems beyond a certain scale. As we raise our capabilities, new problems can be addressed.

It also involves a transformation in the way science is done. Equally or more importantly, it means people are brought together. Broader collaborations are possible because people's tools are improved and they are better able to communicate.

iSGTW: What keeps you motivated and excited about your new position?

DS: As of the beginning of May I have taken over as director of the TeraGrid Grid Infrastructure Group. This group has responsibility for the operation of central infrastructure and TeraGrid's central operations.

In this role I get to see all of the capabilities and possibilities of our new activity: the new equipment coming online and our new participants. I can see what these capabilities mean to the research and technical community. There is nothing like seeing what you've done result in improvement for the nation and the world. This keeps me motivated. This wonderful synergy energizes us all.

- Interviewed by Danielle Venton, iSGTW