Campus makes gains in cyberinfrastructure

A fully supported cyberinfrastructure (CI) is critical to maintaining competitive research programs at UC Davis as a research-intensive ("Research 1") university. The campus is placing an emphasis on supporting high-performance computing as the priority component of CI to be addressed in the near term. Several CI-related projects are moving forward, especially in areas that support high-performance computing for computationally-intensive research.

Recent advances include:

--The creation of a subcommittee to the Campus Council for Information Technology (CCFIT) on research computing, which will move ahead with ideas developed following the Chancellor's Fall 2007 Conference on information technology. Mark Asta, a professor in Chemical Engineering and Materials Science, agreed in January to chair the group. While budgets are tight, setting priorities and planning for the future are most important!

--Progress on identifying a UC Davis research project that would tap into the UC Grid, to help illustrate the grid's value to researchers here. The grid is a network of high-powered computing resources at four other UC campuses; any UC researcher can use it to share the resources. While no specific project has been named yet, Information and Educational Technology will work with campus researchers to use the grid specifically for their projects.

--The creation and maintenance of an inventory of campus server rooms that are available, and appropriate, for installing the racks of computer servers that campus researchers need for their computationally-intensive work. New spaces will be added over time.

"Cyberinfrastructure encompasses all of the traditional IT services, such as computing, networking, storage and security, but places an emphasis on resource sharing, remote access, and the capacity to support high-performance applications," said Mark Redican, Network Operations Center manager. Demand for CI continues to grow as faculty, researchers, staff, and students increase the complexity and ambition of their work, in projects that range from advanced analysis of vast datasets to high-definition online broadcasts of concerts.

One key aspect for the researcher is that CI facilitates collaboration among individuals who may be scattered around the globe. While great strides are being realized in improving CI for research, the director of the National Science Foundation Office of Cyberinfrastructure (OCI) indicates that "data management" is still the largest challenge (and largely unmet) on campuses. While this is the emphasis of the CCFIT subcommittee, efforts are under way to explore how sharing resources could benefit large-scale data management.

Read more about cyberinfrastructure in the OCI's reports and announcements.

Following up on the Chancellor's conference

IET established a working group a year ago to help UC Davis develop its computing and networking services, specifically for researchers. The group, chaired by Morna Mellor, director of Data Center and Client Services in IET, strives to help UC Davis develop its computing and networking services, specifically for researchers.

In addition, the CCFIT research computing subcommittee will help the campus determine what it will take to fully support research computing. Likely topics for their consideration include finding space for researchers who have equipment and just need a good place to house it, as well as helping faculty and researchers who want access to advanced computing power but don't have their own facility.

The subcommittee will also follow up on a report released last year that identified infor mation technology issues requiring the campus's attention. The report came from a committee led by Bernd Hamann, associate vice chancellor for research and a professor in computer science, that developed a five-year vision and specific goals based on the 2007 chancellor's conference. (Read more in "Conference follow-up report sets bold goals for UC Davis IT.")

Meanwhile, a separate group--the Server Room Space Evaluation Committee, named last April--is developing the server room resource inventory. It lists available campus locations with supported space for server racks, and currently identifies two: the Campus Data Center, aimed more at administrative computing, and a new server room in the Watershed Sciences building, aimed more at research computing. New server room space in Academic Surge and Hoagland Annex could be added to the list, as the location in Watershed fills.

All requests for server space made through the committee--23, as of mid-December--have been addressed so far. (For information, contact committee chair Dave Zavatson, of IET-Data Center and Client Services, at IET will help prepare and oversee the rooms regarding occupancy tracking, access, records, surveillance, and fees. The campus will provide investments in improvements to departmental server rooms, and departments that provide space will realize better networking, electricity, cooling, fire suppression and security because of this partnership.

Part of a larger strategy

The server room group is a subcommittee of the Strategic Approach to Investments in Computing Facilities (SAICF) Committee, which is developing a strategy involving both the Davis and Sacramento campuses to guide investments in computing facilities. Pete Siegel, UC Davis chief information officer, and John Meyer, vice chancellor for Resource Management and Planning, co-chair the committee, which was formed by then-Interim Provost Barbara Horwitz in late 2007.

The general idea in all these ventures is to efficiently partner with other administrative units and researchers to develop campus computing initiatives to support the work of a growing campus, including administrative, academic, and research. Considering the budget issues facing the campus, it is more important than ever to explore alternatives to collation space and support models that will enable safer and a more sustainable infrastructure for campus computing.

Long-term plans include a new Campus Data Center. The current one is due to be removed in the future for a new engineering building.

The effort to share resources extends into regional and national grid resources, available through such networks as TerraGrid and Open Science Grid. There is also an effort to share resources by establishing "regional" or "shared" data centers in northern and southern California to support and expand the availability of computing resources for all campuses. The idea of shared clusters, use of cloud computing, and other services are being discussed among the UC campuses, and several pilots and initiatives are under consideration.

In addition to all the above UC-wide efforts, there are individual campus initiatives to seek ways of improving energy efficiency within the data centers, server rooms, and in departments, to lower the impact on campus utility budgets.