'Cyberinfrastructure' workshop eyes next step: setting priorities

The workshop has ended, so now comes the more important part: Using the results to set priorities and make real progress.

On April 5 and 6, two campus departments hosted a workshop on cyberinfrastructure--basically, the computing power, equipment, support and services needed to enable advanced research at UC Davis, in disciplines ranging from medicine to the humanities.

The intent was to take stock of how much cyberinfrastructure the campus has, and discuss how much it should add. (Read "How much do we need?" in the spring IT Times.) The bigger goal is to come up with specific ideas to pursue this year, so that the workshop doesn't become another well-intended discussion that leads nowhere.

Several dozen researchers, faculty, information technology professionals, representatives from regional and national agencies, and others met in sessions that began Thursday afternoon in the Genome Center. They listed several areas where UC Davis needs to add capacity, either on campus or by using resources available elsewhere.

Some suggestions applied mostly to Davis, such as setting up cyberinfrastructure systems that can also serve UC Davis' remote or small locations (think Bodega and Lake Tahoe). Some suggestions would concern any leading research campus, all of which expect massive increases in demand for network speed, cooling, data storage and computing power as research grows more sophisticated.

Five leading campus researchers discussed research with tantalizing social potential--if the research projects can secure the cyberinfrastructure they will need. One example was offered by Dr. Peter Yellowlees, a professor in the UC Davis Health System Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and former interim vice provost of Information and Educational Technology.

A world of much more in dividualized medicine lies ahead, Yellowlees said, based on history and personal genetics. But creating that world will require a lot more data, plus the ability to make sense of it--a recurring theme during the workshop.

The researchers were asked to represent their college or school perspectives, not just their own. They had to work with other researchers to capture and represent this broader view. Representatives of other groups affiliated with higher education also joined Thursday's presentations, including Educause, TeraGrid, Internet2, CENIC and the Open Science Grid.

Friday morning in Memorial Union conference rooms, the discussions turned to exploring possibilities for the campus over the next three years; identifying "signature projects" that would take advantage of expanded cyberinfrastructure; and looking at options for addressing what UC Davis needs.

Research project ideas touched on such diverse areas as genomics, the environment, medicine and engineering. Suggested options for improvements ranged from creating a specific set of well-thought-out strategies to simply learning what resources are already available. The need for more data storage, faster networks, and other cyber-plumbing was so obvious that few people belabored it.

Several people said they hoped the workshop will produce palpable progress. IET Vice Provost Pete Siegel, who cosponsored the workshop with Research Vice Chancellor Barry M. Klein, assured them that it should.

"We'll take the results of the discussion this morning and see if we can't come up with a common set of priorities," he told the group at the end of the workshop Friday. Ideas will be shared with deans and other key campus groups for their comments and support; some conclusions will be shared with the campus this spring.

"We've got some very concrete things we can do," Siegel said, "to move this forward."

Read notes and other material from the workshop here.