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.

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