Monday, 28 September 2009

Brief return

The NGS staff are all back from the EGEE conference in Barcelona where NGS received a fair amount of publicity thanks to a keynote presentation from David Wallom (our technical director), the exhibition stand and several posters and presentations from NGS staff.

You may think we would have time to catch our breath but it's not so. On Wednesday we are running a NGS roadshow event at the University of Glasgow where we have over 40 people attending from 4 different universities across the central belt of Scotland. We have some great speakers lined up for this event and more details can be seen on the event page.

Talking of events, there is still time to register for the NGS Innovation Forum. Registrations keep coming in and the closing date is the 13th of October so you haven't got long left! The break out sessions are proving to be really popular and it's a great way to meet up with researchers in similar areas to discuss issues etc. The registration link can be found here.

In non-event news the latest edition of the NGS newsletter is out now featuring articles on the NGS and GridPP working closer together, NGS roadshows, a spotlight on the Manchester team and much more. If there is anything you would like to see in the next edition of the newsletter or if you have a suggestion for a story then please contact the NGS (

Thursday, 24 September 2009

#egee - Users? What are they?

Another update from the EGEE 09 conference here in Barcelona.

This morning I went to the session on “Users on the Grid” as, being the outreach person who is trying to encourage new users to use the NGS, it’s a topic close to my heart. It's also sometimes easy to forget at some grid conferences that the grid should be there for people to use and not for people to build. It's nice to be reminded that there is an audience out there wanting to use it!

There were a range of presentations from different research areas including particle physics and the life sciences but unfortunately some of the other presentations, from the computational chemistry community for example, didn’t take place.

There was an interesting presentation regarding user support for the Atlas experiment who mainly use Gmail to keep track of their user support queries. The presenter said a big thank you to whoever from Google is responsible for Gmail! The size of their task is quite immense even going so far as to have shift workers – one for the EU time zone and one for the US time zone. This will increase even more in November when they will be moving onto double shifts to cope with the anticipated large influx of relatively inexperienced grid users. It makes the NGS helpdesk look pretty simple in comparison!

The next talk of major relevance to me was the life sciences. The speaker here outlined that the life sciences community contains a large number of different types of researcher all of whom have different levels of knowledge about grid – low, medium or high.

They have put in place various means to get life science researchers engaged with the grid including training, documentation, ticketing and essential tools. The training has been especially important for users with medium to low awareness with intensive hands on training being very welcome and very effective.

Due to the difference in levels of experience in grid computing it is important to have documentation to suit all levels with the presenter pointing out that low level users need examples of APIs usage. For the life sciences one of the most important set of tools are those for managing data but there are also privacy issues that have to be considered. [This is why the NGS is having a session on data handling at our innovation forum in October!].

It was an interesting session and reassuring to hear that we all have the same problems with communities. However I was surprised when I heard that the astronomy and astrophysics community also had barriers to adoption and poor knowledge of grid techniques.

Hopefully one day we can overcome these problems and have everyone using the grid in the same way that they use the internet now.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

#egee - The NGS in the spotlight

Yesterday the NGS Technical Director, Dr David Wallom, gave a keynote address on the NGS to a pretty packed room here at the EGEE conference in Barcelona. David talked about the current state of the NGS and also where we were headed in the future given the move towards an EGI. He explained the resources that we offered our users and highlighted the large number of institutions who have signed up to become members of the NGS, realising the important of giving their researchers access to the most amount of resources. The range of research performed using NGS resources was also highlighted with David talking about many of our popular use case examples. There were lots of questions with many delegates taking the opportunity to quiz David as it is usually the other way round!

This was a great opportunity for the NGS to be showcased to a European (and further beyond) audience at an important event and we would like to thank the organisers for giving the NGS this opportunity.

If you would like to see the slides from Davids presentation they can be found here.

Monday, 21 September 2009

#egee - This is how the Spanish do it

Well the first day of the EGEE’09 conference has kicked off. The exhibition booths (including the NGS one) are extremely busy and there are lots of interested people coming to see us. If you are here and you are reading this blog make sure you stop by and say hello!

The first day is always a bit mad but I headed into the serenity of a session this afternoon to catch up with the Spanish grid initiative to see what they were up to.

There are many similarities between the Spanish grid and the NGS which was nice to see. They currently have around 900 researchers signed up from 94 research groups in 45 different institutions. They also have 16 VO’s in production with a total of 2024 cores available for use from 6 resource providers. One important point that was made was that this is not the Spanish NGI but a start up for it.

Similar to the NGS, all contributions are voluntary and although they don’t have any SLA’s (unlike the NGS) these are on the way. Again, same as the NGS, they have accounting, ticketing and a regional helpdesk as well as first line support. The Spanish attracted their users in a slightly different way to the NGS. They put out a call for applications which resulted in 20 approved proposals for applications, 22 for pilots (feasibility studies) and 14 for support groups.

There then followed a series of mainly biomed use case examples which I’ve listed these below for brevity. There were some quite interesting applications in there.
  • Using BLAST to analyse horizontal transferences of genes between prokaryotes and plants
  • Grid-Fast rotational docking
  • Construction of phylogenetic trees
  • Medical imaging on the grid – need efficient storage mechanisms and infrastructures for sorting, indexing and processing medical images, in particular mammography.
There was also a presentation on High energy physic applications which mainly related to their contribution to the LHC.

So the first day is nearly over. All that remains now is the welcome cocktail which normally results in a lot of people coming to visit the stands etc and then off into town in search of dinner. Hopefully we won’t have a repeat of last nights torrential thunderstorm!

Friday, 18 September 2009

Climate change and impact assessment in Exeter

Yesterday I was down at the University of Exeter along with our Technical Director, David Wallom, to run a NGS roadshow event. 23 people had registered for the event which featured two presentations from some of our biggest users.

Andrew Price from the University of Southampton spoke about the GENIE model system which stands for Grid ENabled Integrated Earth system model. The model demonstrated possible scenarios and perfectly demonstrated the need for resources such as the NGS to carry out this sort of modelling.

The second speaker was Dr Zhongwei Guan from the Department of Engineering at the University of Liverpool. Dr Guan leads a research team all of whom heavily rely on the NGS in their research. Dr Guan spoke about why and how he uses the NGS in his work and the benefits he has found doing so. He also showed some of the modelling he has carried out on impact assessments on structures such as fuselages and lattice structures.

All the presentations were very well received and lunch was a lively affair with much discussion regarding the NGS, the resources available and how Exeter researchers could benefit from it.

The roadshows are now on hold until the end of the month when we have one in Glasgow. If you are near Glasgow and would like to attend the roadshow then please register at the event website.

Watch this site for news from the EGEE conference in Barcelona next week. Hopefully between being on the UKI stand and keeping on top of all my other work, I'll have time to blog about some of the sessions I attend during the week.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Are you involved in any of these areas?

For the first time the NGS Innovation Forum will feature break out sessions devoted to particular topics. These have proved to be very popular with those already registered so get in quick before your particular topic fills up!

We have everything from research community related sessions to more generic sessions on day to day research problems. ITS staff needn't feel left out as we also have topics for you! The full list is-
  • Data handling and integration
  • Site integration with the NGS
  • Software licensing
  • User support
  • molecular modelling
  • bioinformatics
  • social sciences
  • human biology
Further suggestions are welcome and they can be added to this list.

The Innovation Forum will be held in London on the 21st - 22nd of October and, although the event is free to attend, registration is required. You can register at this site - just make sure you do so before the deadline of the 14th of October!

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Normal service will be resumed

It's been a bit quiet here on the NGS blog recently as I've been on holiday for the last 3 weeks and I seem to be the only person who ever has something to say! Just as well really for an outreach person... Well now that I'm back normal service will hopefully be resumed.

However things are a tad hectic here in the life of the NGS - well for me at least. We have 2 of our very popular NGS roadshows happening this month - one at the University of Exeter and one at the University of Glasgow. We've got some more lined up for later on this year but we aren't taking any more bookings for 2009 as we're so busy! If you're interested in having a NGS roadshow at your institution or you want to find out more about them then drop me a line on here and I'll get back to you ASAP.

The next event coming up (apart from roadshows) is the EGEE'09 conference in Barcelona from the 21st - 25th of September. The NGS will have several members of staff there and will be a partner on the UKI exhibition stand at the event along with OMII-UK, Grid Ireland, NeSC and GridPP. If you're there, stop by and say hi!