How should the university campus interface with national cyberinfrastructure (CI)? What role should the university play? These are questions that matter, which is why iSGTW staff were pleased to see the recent report on campus bridging. The report, edited by John McGee (Renaissance Computing Institute), Von Welch (Indiana University), and Guy Almes (Texas A&M University) is based on an August 2010 workshop hosted by Indiana University and held in Denver, Colorado. Read on for a condensed version of the report's executive summary.
The workshop took a broad view of software and services, defining services to include user support, information technology services, and everything in between. The workshop focused on two goals:
Prior to the workshops, we designed an online user survey to capture user experiences with CI, and distributed it to 5,000 scientists who have served as National Science Foundation Principle Investigators.
The goal of campus bridging is to enable the seamlessly integrated use among: a scientist or engineer's personal cyberinfrastructure; cyberinfrastructure on the scientist's campus; cyberinfrastructure at other campuses; and cyberinfrastructure at the regional, national, and international levels; so that they all function as if they were proximate to the scientist. When working within the context of a Virtual Organization, the goal of campus bridging is to make the 'virtual' aspect of the organization irrelevant (or helpful) to the work of the VO.
-The NSF's Task Force on Campus Bridging
Nearly half of the respondents indicated they used some CI besides their own workstation or locally controlled CI. The responses we received helped us to identify how CI is used as a bridge, and how well various aspects of CI are working. They also helped guide our workshop discussions.
A number of ﬁndings emerged from the survey and workshop, which we group into the following four categories:
Challenges related to software and services
- Scientists have no coordinated mechanism to discover CI resources and services, and, once discovered, it is a challenge to ﬁgure out how to use those resources, determine their policies, ﬁnd users support, etc.
- Conversely, it is difﬁcult for CI projects to discover small communities and discern the needs of those communities (as opposed to their vocal minorities).
- There are signiﬁcant challenges in measuring the effort spent on and impact of campus bridging and campus-level CI due to the distributed nature of these activities and lack of clear metrics.
- Scientists are hampered in their use of CI by a lack of coordination and interoperability between CI and campus support mechanisms.
Importance of campuses in CI education and workforce development.
- A trained workforce is critical to mature, usable CI.
- The new generation of scientists and students are accustomed to commercial and other computing infrastructure, and they expect similar performance from CI. These scientists also tend to be less accustomed to the low-level usage modalities used by their predecessors.
- Campuses, as educators of the future CI workforce and scientists, can have huge impacts on both of the previous ﬁndings.
Relationship of NSF CI, administrative computing, and commercial CI
- Computing infrastructure within campuses tends to be split between administrative and research computing. Research computing is more readily integrated as part of a coordinated national CI, but the administrative IT tends to get more attention and funding from campus leadership.
- Administrative and commercial computing infrastructure tend to be highly polished, emphasizing attributes like reliability and usability. This has led to signiﬁcant adoption of commercial infrastructure by scientists, according to our CI user survey.
- While CI should become more polished in order to meet scientist's increasing expectations, CI also needs to maintain enough ﬂexibility to adapt to the still-evolving needs of collaborative science.
User support and fostering expertise sharing for CI
Effective use of CI for science requires good user support and access to CI expertise. The reward system for many faculty PIs, however, does not motivate supporting scientists. Changing this reward system would be very difﬁcult. Other ways to increase support for scientists using CI would be to provide for more "peer-to-peer" support through user forums and the like, and increasing the CI expertise of campus support staff close to scientists and giving that support staff cognizance of the scientist's problems with CI outside the campus.
Emerging from these ﬁndings were the following recommendations:
For the full report, visit the report's page in the Indiana University document repository, here.