SU's leading-edge campus grid is a free, world-class computing resource for any researcher with an idea
Researchers in SU's academic community now have access to greater computing resources at no cost thanks to the expanding campus computing grid. The grid uses idle desktop computers to perform research-based tasks.
Grid computing links computers on a network to share resources and perform specific research operations. SU's campus grid allows an authorized user to tap into the unused processing power of computers across campus. Authorized users can instruct the computers to perform research tasks when the computers are idle, typically at night and on weekends and holidays.
Duncan Brown is an Associate Professor of Physics at SU. Brown was named a 2010 Cottrell Scholar by the Research Corporation for Science Advancement. He is currently using the campus grid for research on gravitational-wave astronomy.
"The SU campus grid will put Syracuse at the cutting edge of campus computing power," says Brown. "It will enable research from small-scale projects by faculty who typically do not have access to significant compute power to large, compute-intensive research such as my own."
The current campus grid peaks at over 3,600 cores. Over the winter break, researchers in Brown's group used a total of 100,000 tasks and 90,000 compute hours to study the gravitational waves produced when two black holes collide. The project utilized processing power from a mix of desktop computers in the Whitman School of Management, ITS, Arts and Sciences and the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. Potentially there are about 7,000 machines and 12,000 possible cores available for the campus grid. As the grid grows it provides more computing capacity for researchers.
"The grid provides access to significant compute time to researchers who are currently without dedicated clusters or hardware to operate," says Eric Sedore, Associate CIO for Infrastructure Services. "Similarly, the academic hosting virtual environment provides a low-cost cloud environment for researchers to work in."
The Academic Virtual Hosting Environment (AVHE) creates a customized cloud for researchers to perform small to moderate computationally intensive research tasks. The initial hardware supporting the AVHE is comprised of the resources within Machinery Hall designated for disaster recovery. When the hardware is not involved in disaster recovery efforts it is available to the AVHE for academic work. Longer term, to sustain the AVHE, as researchers acquire funding for their research they can purchase compute cycles, memory, and disk space dedicated within the AVHE to support their research.
The campus grid provides researchers with reliable High Throughput Computing (HTC). The computers in the grid are optimized to perform a large number of small parallel jobs (typically less than 24 hours; most are a few hours), providing high processing capacity over long periods of time. In contrast, High Performance Computing (HPC) focuses on performing jobs, typically long running, as quickly as possible. Currently six researchers from different academic units are using the HTC campus grid.
"The SU campus grid is a world-class facility for high-throughput computing. It will allow us to leverage a substantial additional compute resource for academic research. The scale of the facility is larger than that supported by a typical million-dollar major research infrastructure proposal," says Brown.
The grid utilizes virtualization via Oracle's VirtualBox, the Condor High Throughput Computing System, and the Condor Virtual Machine Coordinator (CVMC), a small application developed by ITS to "glue" together the various components, to schedule the research work. These components are distributed to desktop clients via Microsoft's Active Directory. Condor, developed with support from the National Science Foundation, manages the grid's workload. The computer's task scheduler detects when its host computer is idle, starts up CVMC, and connects to Condor to receive work. When user activity is detected on the computer ITS's "grid watcher" immediately kills the research operations. Virtualization acts as a barrier which separates the researcher and their content from the user's information on the same computer.
"The grid shouldn't impact the user experience in any noticeable way. We're working to keep the research work from impacting the user's day-to-day work," says Sedore. "The user doesn't have to change their usage behavior as a result of the grid being in place."
The grid doesn't require any new hardware and will have a comparatively low cost per computing cycle. The informal working group developing the campus grid includes members from the College of Arts and Sciences and Information Technology and Services (ITS).
"Through ingenuity, new technical options, and a modest investment in staff time we've built a leading-edge campus grid comprised of resources SU already owns," says Sedore. "The grid is a free resource to the University research community and is available to any researcher with an idea."
For more information on the HTC campus grid, including how to put it to work on a research project, contact Eric Sedore at x3534 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Article by: Dania SouidContact Information: ITS Service Center, email@example.com, (315) 443-2677
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