Monday, 28 November 2011

Interact with the NGS

I recently updated the NGS presence on Facebook to a new interactive page.  Instead of the old-style group page, the NGS now has a new page under the UK NGI banner which reflects our role as the lead in the UK National Grid Initiative along with GridPP.

By “liking” our page you can receive news updates from the NGS all in one place as well as news updates from the Software Sustainability Institute (SSI) and GridPP.  Please feel free to invite your friends and colleagues to "like" our page and to share articles with your friends list - help spread the word about e-infrastructure! 

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

NGS at SC'11 - round up

The UK presence was fairly significant this year at SC'11 with attendance by David Wallom, NGS Technical Director and a significant number of the leaders of research computing centres from around UK universities. This included NGS member sites @ Bristol, Leeds, Oxford, Southampton and EPCC.

In this blog post, David gives us a round up of NGS activities at this major computing event.

Having got off of the very long flight from Heathrow
to Seattle we settled onto the metro to get us  downtown. After passable sleep the following morning we headed over to the SC’11 venue – the Washington Convention Centre to collect our badges and then visit the workshop on HPC in Smart Grid, where there was UK interest from the EC FP7 HiPerDNO project being presented by Dr Stef Salvini, OeRC. Following a very productive day where we learnt the state of the art in US Smart grids, how they intend to utilize knowledge developed through the national e-infrastructure for research. We then met up with the EGI team who had an exhibition stand at the conference.

The Monday workshop, Many-Task computing on Grids and Clouds 2011,  started off with an interesting keynote from David Abramson (Monash) a long term friend of the NGS through support for their Nimrod tool which is popular with several of our biosciences users. After this there was a panel session which went slightly off topic to talk about exascale more than Many task but it still attracted several questions around the need for exascale, when we are still struggling to get a significant user base onto smaller HPC systems. Overall a good workshop though having the panel first did mean that a number of people didn’t hang around for the rest of the papers. This workshop was operating in a very competitive market with other sessions on cloud and data management which also attracted significant crowds.

The first full day of the conference allowed for the first good look around the exhibition floor alongside several interesting birds of a feather sessions There was also the  first of a number of conversations with different groups and vendors, including Microsoft, Mathworks and Adaptive Computing.  To give an idea of scale this picture is down one of the main aisles in one of the 5 rooms that were all about this size!!

Pretty impressive stands by a number of people
but the coolest was the multi projection globe on the NOAA stand.

We of course also announced
our activity with Globus Online which created a lot of interest and ended with us having a number of interesting conversations with NSF regarding future collaboration between our national e-infrastructures.

During the meeting the EGI booth was continually visited by a reasonably large number of people, we had the Real Time Monitor showing as normal (having seen a lot of 3D screens this needs to be done in 3d now for next year!). They did though give away a pretty large number of t-shirts as did a lot of stands, so I ended up as the moving poster board around down town  Seattle from 6:30-7am every morning on my morning run!

Friday, 18 November 2011

Dinosaurs, DNA and nuclear power

Just a normal month or so in the life of the NGS really but what do all 3 have in common?
They were all research areas investigated using NGS resources.

The research of William Sellers, Phil Manning and Karl Bates on dinosaur locomotion was featured as a “success story” on the EGI website.  They talked about how they used Grid computing to understand better how dinosaurs moved around and what roles they played in their ancient world.  As there are no similar animals around today to compare to dinosaurs such as a T. Rex, the solution is to create a detailed computer simulation of the animal’s skeleton and muscles.

Not only was their research picked up by EGI but it also featured in iSGTW – fantastic publicity for the researchers and for the NGS!

I’ve been busy putting together some user case studies over the last few weeks and I’m pleased to say that there are now a few more up on the website showcasing the large spread of research areas that the NGS facilitates.

First up is Charlie Laughton from the University of Nottingham who has been using the NGS for quite some time now.  He used the NGS to investigate the flexibility and folding properties of DNA as understanding how the tightly packed DNA in human cells can still be read can, in turn, help to understand how cells switch genes on and off.   At present there is no clear understanding of how this works.  Being able to influence this in new ways may ultimately help to find new drugs to treat diseases such as cancer, develop new biofuels, and crops that can resist climate change.

Charlie said “…without the compute power and high-throughput provided by the NGS, we would not have been able to deliver our part of the project in a timely manner. At a more personal level, it led to one of the most highly cited publications I have ever had.”

John Allen from the University of Edinburgh explained how they use NGS resources to power the GridQTL portal which is used worldwide to study gene expression in a wide range of organisms.

The team’s use of the NGS has greatly increased the productivity of their users (currently around 400) in the QTL community. One example of this is a GridQTL user at the University of Missouri Columbia.  They ran a series of studies on carcass, post-natal growth and reproductive traits in commercial Angus cattle and found a speed up of from 20 people-weeks, using their old single server system, to 3 people-weeks to capture and analyse the data with GridQTL. 

Finally we have nuclear power!  Paul Martin from the University of Huddersfield has been using the NGS to investigate the suitability of Thoria asan alternative form of nuclear fuel.  Paul’s research is particularly timely as there is increased interest in the use of thorium dioxide for nuclear power rods not least because of its comparatively high abundance in the earth’s crust and low cost.  It is for this reason that, although the main fuel for nuclear power reactors is currently urania-based, thoria-based fuel is attracting much attention as an alternative high performance nuclear fuel.

All of our case studies can be found on the NGS website and we now have a collection of 26 covering a wide range of research areas.  If you are interested in using the NGS case studies to promote grid resources then please let us know.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

A tangled web we weave

In the September 2011 edition of NGS News, we published an article by our Technical Director David Wallom which highlighted the networks of champions that exist within the NGS.  To compliment this I also received and published an article on our website from Simon Hettrick from the Software Sustainability Institute about their network of champions which they have thankfully called Agents.  Too many champions spoil the broth and all that...

It got me thinking about how these networks all fit together like a spiders web as some people are members of more than one champions network and some institutions have more than one person involved.  A tangled web indeed!

This has probably come to the forefront of my mind as, due to some staff changes at the NGS, I'll be a lot more involved in the organisation of the Campus and Community Champions here at the NGS.

So what are these Champions and who are they?

The Campus Champions as suggested by the name, promote the NGS and the services we provide on their university campus or in their institution.  They tend to be people involved in research computing or ITS but we also have researchers involved.  All NGS member sites are expected to nominate a Campus Champion but we welcome Campus Champions from any UK university or institution.  Your site doesn't have to be a member to have a Campus Champion!  If you are interested in promoting the NGS at your institution or university (with help and support from the NGS) then please get in touch!

The Community Champions are funded by the EPSRC funded SeIUCCR project and are researchers who actively use e-infrastructure in their research.  They promote to their research community, peers and colleagues from all institutions and universities.  We are looking for more Community Champions from all and every research area so if you are interested in promoting your research and your use of the NGS then please get in touch!

There will be some slight changes to our Champions networks and hopefully you will see a lot more activity from these already active groups.  I want to highlight their activities more and demonstrate their contribution to the NGS and e-infrastructure as a whole.  I'd also like to link them more closely with the SSI Agents.

Lots of plans are afoot so watch this space!