Thursday, July 21, 2011

The sunset of Teragrid and the dawn of XSEDE

As the sun sets on the TeraGrid era, the horizon opens up for the future of XSEDE, described John Town picturesquely, leader of the new project XSEDE: Extreme Science and Engineering Discovery Environment, part of the National Science Foundation’s eXtreme Digital program. Towns, from NCSA, outlined the road from Teragrid to XSEDE at the TeraGrid11 plenary this morning. Over its ten years, TeraGrid provided a lot of resources but was particularly characterised by the high level of help and support available to users. It mainly supported the NSF, but also other agencies such as DOE, NIH and NASA, in a wide diversity of fields including physics, molecular biosciences, astronomy and many more.

With TeraGrid closing, a new program was needed – XD or eXtreme Digital. There were two proposals submitted and XSEDE is the successful combination that has been awarded funding. The start has been delayed for around a year beyond the expected date, but is now up and running. The vision is to enhance the productivity of scientists and engineers but in a shift in emphasis from TeraGrid, this vision doesn’t specifically mention HPC - although it is vital part. To give you an idea of the scale of funding, the Training, Outreach and Education activities will be allocated around $3 million dollars a year for 5 years.

XSEDE has been out to speak to communities to gather their needs up to 2015. Earth science, for example, are looking for support for their cybershake work in earthquake modelling involving a few big parallel jobs, and many thousand loosely coupled jobs. Others such as iPlant, that is solving grand challenges in plant science, need high speed access to data in databases scattered in different places, plus an HPC component to do the analysis. Brain science, including the Human Connectome Project aims to understand the wiring of the human brain, a hugely complex problem. They will have Petabytes of data to archive and stream in near real time at 1 GB/s.

As for TeraGrid, XSEDE’s focus is on user support services. They want to be able to respond to requirements quickly, so have money set aside in the budget to hire in experts in the short term from external sources. They will also be relying on their network of dozens of Campus Champions who provide onsite expertise. The TEOS team will be providing particularly intensive support to 5 to 10 campuses a year to help this along.

As far as architecture is concerned, they will be moving forward carefully, based on standards. They are currently documenting the architecture – ‘describing the elephant’ as Towns put it, but from the perspectives of different stakeholders eg service provider, sys admin, power and occasional user, gateway developer, security officer, NSF program manager, campus champion, trainer etc etc.

Connecting with users is also of key importance. They will use the tried and tested methods of trouble ticket tracking, focus groups, user interviews and ‘shoulder surfing’, watching how users interact with the services. However, they are also setting up a User Requirements Evaluation and Prioritisation Working Group that will help them to prioritise requirements through the direct participation of stakeholders. XSEDE is planning user focused workshops and users will be represented in the governance structures of the program, through the XSEDE Advisory Board, User Advisory Committee and Service Providers Forum.

Interesting times ahead!

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