Tuesday, 31 March 2009

The Magical NGS

A heads up for your diary here!

Following the very successful Innovation Forum held at MoSI last November, the dates have been confirmed for the next annual NGS Innovation Forum. IF'09 will take place on the 21st - 22nd of October at the Magic Circle Headquarters in London. Yes that Magic Circle!

The venue is literally steps away from Euston train station and only 10 minutes from Kings Cross and St. Pancras. We will have the entire venue to ourselves for both days of the event and there are sure to be some surprises in store!

If you were unable to attend the last IF, catch up with what you missed through the wonders of technology! The agenda and some of the presentations from the previous IF are available here, videos of the presentations are available here and photos from the event are available on our Flickr site.

I bet you never thought you'd see a photo of Paul Daniels on a grid computing blog did you?

Friday, 27 March 2009

What do people want from ICT? – Part 2

The second presentation at this JISC conference session was given by Prof. Rob Procter, Research Director of National Centre for e-Social Science (NCeSS).

Rob was talking about the e-Uptake project which looked at barriers and enablers to the uptake of e-infrastructure. Again interviews with 50 people from a wide variety of research areas were conducted as well as intermediary services such as ITS units at universities and national services. This resulted in over 25 hours of audio tape to be transcribed which must have been a daunting task!

The second phase of the project was of particular interest as this involved 25 “established and inspirational” HEI’s as well as small specialised research institutes. Two interviews were performed at each – one at a strategic level and the other at the direct user support level.
This was of particular interest to me as often we deal directly with the end user but it is important to have the support of everyone in the institution from the strategic level down to the “coal face”. This is particularly important to the NGS as we try to encourage more HEI’s to become members of the NGS. If people at a strategic level are not aware of the services and benefits on offer then it makes our job much harder.

The results from these interviews will eventually be available as the researchers are currently developing an online database of their findings. However some of the initial findings were presented. I’ve listed them here along with some comments on what the NGS is currently doing to tackle these problems.

1. People weight up the cost of adoption – is it worthwhile learning to use e-research?
Through user case studies and user participation in our roadshow and innovation forum agendas, we showcase how using NGS resources has helped real-life research take place. There is no better advertisement than our major users! We also showcase users research in many of our outreach mechanisms such as user case studies, the NGS newsletter, website etc. All examples to potential new users of how the NGS can help research.

2. What’s the long term sustainability?
The NGS has just received funding for another 2 years (until March 2011) and discussions are already taking place for long term security after this date.

3. Enablers are needed such as roadshows, consultancy, collaboration and the need to follow up potential leads
The NGS hosts roadshows at any interested institution and these events are organised by NGS staff ensuring as little burden as possible on local organisers. The events are free to host and attend. All you need to do is let us know that you’d like one!
The NGS has a helpdesk staffed by experienced grid users who are there to offer help in the immediate term but also longer term advice to institutions and users.

4. Lack of support infrastructure
The NGS has a helpdesk as mentioned above and also offers a great deal of support to new institutions wishing to join the NGS by providing them with a “buddy”. We also offer a wide variety of training which is free through the training team at NeSC so new users can get up and running as quickly as possible on the NGS and also training for more experienced users in order to hone their skills.

5. Awareness raising
Well this is what I do as the NGS Liaison Officer. It’s my full time job to make sure that the NGS reaches out to as many people as possible through every means available! We have a wide variety of Web 2.0 tools such as this blog, Twitter, Facebook etc. We attend a large number of research-based conferences in order to reach out directly to users as well as conferences held by organisations such as JISC. We go out to institutions with our roadshow events in order to reach a wide variety of people at an institution from PhD students to IT directors. We produce a large range of literature from user case studies to newsletters demonstrating how the NGS helps researchers and how NGS resources are used. And much much more!

Of course there is always more the NGS could be doing but with the resources that we have I’d like to think that we are tackling many of the issues that Rob raised and that our users do feel supported and informed. We are always looking for suggestions from users for things that they feel we could do more of or things they feel that are missing from the NGS. All comments are welcome!

Thursday, 26 March 2009

What do people want from ICT? - the e-IUS project

As promised here are some of my notes from the session earlier this week at the JISC conference. This set of notes will concentrate on the first presentation from the e-IUS project (e-Infrastructure Use Cases and Service Usage Models).

e-IUS examined how e-infrastructure is being used in academia and aimed to promote its use as well as encouraging people to develop services and tools. They had 4 main ways of doing this –

1. experience reports
2. use cases (non-technical)
3. videos
4. service usage models

People selected to take part in the project participated in all 4 methods above. A list of participants was shown in the presentation and there were a lot of them! It wasn’t just individual researchers that were interviewed as services were also involved in the project as participants. The experience reports or interviews were the starting point for the project and they found that the initial contacts were happy to recommend services and other researchers to take part in the study.

A video was shown of an archaeology project which has benefited from e-infrastructure out in the field and in the lab by cutting down the amount of time it takes to record finds etc. The video can be seen here.

The presentation was interesting but I felt it focused too much on the methods rather than the end results and conclusions – perhaps this is because it was given by a social scientist who is obviously interested in the methodology. Also as someone who is tasked with getting more people to take advantage of the services offered by the NGS, I have a vested interest in knowing what people want! However there were a few “take home” messages.

1. Researchers adopt e-infrastructure tools if they provide over-all benefits and not just research benefits.
2. Personalisation is needed and co-ownership to encourage people to adopt e-infrastructure tools.

More information and project outputs from e-IUS can be found here.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

JISC Conference - the aftermath

Well most of the NGS staff have returned from Edinburgh and the JISC conference. The JISC conference is a slightly odd event for the NGS with a large number of librarians and e-learning staff present which isn't really our target audience. However interesting chats were had with several IT staff and leads will be followed up over the next few days.

The SARoNGS demo went ahead yesterday but was affected by the two power cuts at RAL earlier in the day. Plan Z was implemented as all other plans had been exhausted by then but the demo did go ahead! Audiences for the demos were small as they were some distance away from the refreshments but the SARoNGS demo was well received.

I attended the session on "what do researchers want from ICT?" - a question that everyone would like an answer to! I took quite a few notes at the session so hopefully I will have time to write them up properly and to put in some thoughts on the session from a NGS perspective. The notes will be put on here for comment over the next few days so please feel to comment!

Monday, 23 March 2009

NGS Roadshow - Aston in April

The NGS are hosting a roadshow and training event at Aston University on the 7th - 8th of April. The event is open to anyone at any institution including PhD students, researchers, academics, team leaders, ITS people - anyone who has an interest in using the NGS!

The first day comprises of a series of short presentations covering topics such as how to get started on the NGS and how to submit a job as well as presentations on the kind of support that is available to get you up and running.

The second day is a training session run by the TOE team at NeSC who will give a hands on session so participants can submit actual jobs to the NGS.

Participants are welcome to attend only one or both days of the event. For further details and to register for this FREE event please see the event page on the NGS website.

Friday, 20 March 2009

NGS at the JISC Conference

If you are attending the JISC conference in Edinburgh next week then be sure to stop by the NGS exhibition stand (no. 28) where Andrew Richards (NGS Executive Director) and Gillian Sinclair (Liaison Officer) will be on hand to answer any questions. So if you want to know how your institution can join the NGS or how you can encourage researchers at your institution to use NGS resources etc then please stop by for a chat!

As well as the exhibition stand there will also be a demonstration of the NGS SARoNGS project. SARoNGS stands for Shibboleth Access to Resources on the NGS and the demo will show how the SARoNGS project is enabling users to gain access to the NGS with their own institutional ID via the Access Management Federation. It will also demonstrate how the NGS is using PERMIS technology from the VPMan project to enable resource providers and projects to control access to individual services within their resource.

The demo will take place on Tuesday on demo stand 4 at 1pm.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Archaeology in action

The NGS and OMII-UK work together on the Engage project which aims to promote the engagement of researchers with e-infrastructure in the UK. The Engage website holds a large amount of information on the project and also associated projects eIUS and e-Uptake which also look at the interaction and uptake of e-infrastructure within the academic community. The eIUS project has recently uploaded a video to the website demonstrating how computing has enhanced the work of researchers in archaeology. This is only the first in a series of video case studies produced by the project so watch this space for further announcements!

Thursday, 12 March 2009

NGS research highlighted

The latest edition of iSGTW highlighted research carried out at the Univeristy of Oxford using NGS resources. Thushka Maharaj and Blanca Rodriguez both work on the Integrative Biology project and have used the NGS to examine the effects of defibrillation on the heart. Further information can be found in the iSGTW article.

The latest edition of the quarterly NGS newsletter is also out now featuring articles on hardware upgrades at the University of Glasgow, an update on the progress of the Engage project, how astronomers and cosmologists are making the most of the NGS and much more.

If you have anything you would like to see highlighted in the next edition of the NGS newsletter which is due out at the end of May then please let us know!

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Continuation funding for the NGS

As many of the NGS staff return from the EGEE User Forum / OGF 25 meeting in Catania it is to the good news that we can now announce the awarding of our continuation funding.

We have been awarded £3M for the next 2 years from JISC and EPSRC and, as Dr Andrew Richards Executive Director of the NGS explains, this will "enable the NGS to move to being a sustainable service, underpinning the e-infrastructure within the UK, and continue to enable innovative research using e-science technologies".

We look forward to working with you and helping you to tackle the big challenges in your research field in the future!

If anyone would like more information on the announcement / press release then please contact the NGS Liaison Officer (gillian.sinclair(at)manchester.ac.uk).

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Day 3 in Catania

Yesterday I went to the computational chemistry session which consisted of 2 sessions each with 3 talks.

Compchem kicked off the proceedings – they are one of the EGEE VO’s (supported by several EGEE sites) and currently have over 60 users since they started at the end of 2004. Much like the NGS they also target user conferences in order to advertise their presence and the services they can offer the chemistry community. Again, like the NGS, they are perhaps restricted in which countries they can target and so attend European events. They also provide training for users to help them get up and running on the EGEE grid resources and to use popular software such as GAMESS, DL-Poly etc. It’s nice to see that in order to reach out to users that they have done case studies of previous research in order to highlight successes etc.
For me this presentation was the highlight of the first half of the computational chemistry session!

After the break I swapped sessions as it seemed that all the user orientated sessions ie those that actually featured real uses of grid technology, all clashed with each other.

The next session I went to was entitled “grid technology uptake by scientific communities and SME's”. As the user engagement person for the NGS I was obviously more interested in reaching out to the scientific communities rather than the SME's. There were a large number of rather short talks in the session although some of these had been cancelled.

Although Sicily might seem like a small island, it does have its own grid. The Sicilian grid consists of 200 cores, 2GB of f RAM per core, 250 TB storage and gLite 3.1 middleware. To manage the thorny issue of licensed software, they have a system to manager this as they have grid enabled their Flex server. It was fantastic to hear someone actually say that building infrastructure is a waste of time if you don't build a user base - hear, hear! I was very impressed to see that they have purpose built classrooms and training infrastructure in place to make sure that grid is seen as a common tool. Unsurprisingly they were able to show a direct correlation between training and usage of infrastructure.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Day 2, off and running :)

Day two has just started with a very interesting keynote given by Stefano Nativi, about the application of standards within the Earth Sciences Community. He showed how they are planning on using real grid platforms for things such as civil protection and interconnection of Earth science applications and resources.
The other 'big' news is that a location has been chosen for the EGI Host Site. in the end Amsterdam has been chosen which personally was always my favorite. This follows on from the 'workshop' yesterday where the EGI was presented to the community which included the internal structure, NGI requirements and a very hazy thing on how much it will cost everyone!

Monday, 2 March 2009

Hello From Catania

The NGS staff are all here in Catania, Sicily at the EGEE User Forum / OGF 25 / OGF-Europe event. Several of us are currently on the UK and Ireland Federation stand so if you’re here pop by and see us.

Unfortunately most of the NGS material is “still in transit” thanks to the couriers but apparently it should appear today… Fingers crossed. However we do have some very nice NGS t-shirts in several styles to give away! The presentations have started and many sessions are currently underway although apparently many people are only travelling over today.

The weather here is gorgeous at the moment and the lunch being served outside has made the most of this. Coffee and tea has just been served so it’s time to investigate the tea situation. As a non-coffee drinker in Italy, it can sometimes be a struggle!