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iSGTW Feature - People behind the LHC grid: Mike Vetterli

Feature - People behind the LHC grid: Michel Vetterli

Mike Vetterli hiking in the North Vancouver mountains near his home.

Image courtesy of Mike Vetterli.

An outdoorsman when his dual responsibilities at Simon Fraser University and TRIUMF allow him the time to hike with his daughter, physicist Michel (Mike) Vetterli not only loves nature, he wants to understand it. He's always wanted to see how things work. He remembers being inspired by watching the Apollo 13 ground crew solve problems with the spacecraft remotely. In graduate school he became fascinated with the fundamental workings of computers. Now he's working to uncover nature's secrets with grid computing.

In addition to his professorship at SFU in Vancouver, Canada, Vetterli has been instrumental in setting up both WestGrid and the ATLAS-Canada Tier-1 Data Center at TRIUMF. He is currently computing coordinator for ATLAS-Canada, charged with ensuring that Canada has the necessary computing resources to analyze ATLAS data. He was recently elected chair of the Worldwide LHC Computing Grid Collaboration Board.

iSGTW: What is your role as chair of the wLCG Collaboration Board?

MV: "My role is essentially to represent wLCG users. I should ensure that the wLCG is used fairly by all and that everyone is happy with the system. I want to stress that the people who really make the system work are the operations staff at CERN, led by Ian Bird who is the head of the project, and the staff in the various centers distributed globally. "

"I hope to set up direct contacts between the Tier-2 centers, the wLCG staff, and the experiments. I anticipate spending some time coordinating between the experiments. I am sure there will be 'issues' related to fair access when data start coming from the LHC."

iSGTW: How ready is wLCG for LHC startup?

MV: "Since wLCG went operational in January 2007, we have undergone several system-readiness tests. They went well, and we learned a lot and improved the system accordingly. That said, the scaling of the system from a few hundred users to thousands will be a challenge. However, I am confident the operations staff will solve problems quickly and efficiently."

Number of jobs per month executed on the grid between January 07 and February 08. The number of jobs has increased steadily, peaking at 230,000 per day in February 08.

Image courtesy of wLCG.

iSGTW: What directions do you hope to see grid computing take in the future?

MV: "I have a buzz phrase in answer to this question. 'The grid will do for large-scale distributed computing what the World Wide Web has done for the global sharing of information.' To be clearer, it is unlikely that Joe Public will use the grid much because Microsoft Office and computer games don't require huge resources. However, petroleum companies analyzing large data-sets from seismic exploration, automobile or aeronautics companies doing large-scale computer simulation to validate designs, and even financial companies that run sophisticated financial models-industries like these will be able to share computer resources and realize significant cost savings."

iSGTW: The grid's drawbacks or challenges?

MV: "Right now I think we have to admit that the learning curve for grid use is a little too steep for the average user. However the situation is improving and the large-scale roll-out to the LHC community will teach us a lot about how to set up access in the easiest way possible."

"On the technical side, the use of compute resources, what I call the compute-grid, is pretty much in hand. Work still needs to be done on the data-grid, though. If a computing center gives access to storage, how do we determine that the files can be deleted? Users can't fill up disks with files that are no longer useful on someone else's system half-way around the world."

"A lot of progress has been made in grid security, but the bar is set very high in such sectors as finance and health. I believe grid security is basically there, but the challenge is to convince users in these communities of that fact."

"Our job as grid pioneers is to get the word out and to simplify the use of the grid enough to encourage its use."

-Anne Heavey, iSGTW

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