Friday, 14 January 2011

A different kind of social network

Those of us involved in NGS support regularly email our users, sometimes phone them and occasionally see them pixelated in a window of an AccessGrid session - but we seldom get a chance to see what they do for a living.

When we do, it is a welcome reminder that we do the dull-but-useful stuff so others can do new and interesting research.

The latest welcome reminder came courtesy of the National e-Infrastructure for Social Simulation (NeISS) who met in Leeds earlier this week. The local NGS support took the opportunity to come along and listen.

NeISS has been described by as an attempt to build a real life version of`SimCity - with an emphasis changed making life better for real communities rather than tidying-up Tokyo after a visit from Godzilla.

NeISS researchers study the behaviour of people. Their approaches range from statistical analysis of census data to the use of agent-based modelling: following virtual people as they go about their virtual lives, travel to virtual work, have virtual children and eventually virtually die.

The researchers involved have been long-time users of the NGS. Visit the case-studies section of the website and you will see find how NGS resources were used in social simulations to estimate how the population of an area changes over time and study patterns of criminal behaviour

This is proper e-Research - an interdisciplinary collaboration between 8 UK institutions made possible by modern technology and fast computer networks.

They have a website and a software repository; they use applications like Taverna to automate data processing and publish the workflows they create to MyExperiment.

And they want to make their work available to those who plan and run our communities - or simply live in them.

They are developing web-based portals from which simulations can be launched. The idea is that a city planner would be able to log on and see the consequences of, say, building new houses on local traffic and schools.

Simulations are computationally expensive. The computer hardware that hosts the portals lacks the computational oomph to run the simulations so this work need to be offloaded to more powerful computers elsewhere and the data passed around.

It all very grid... or very cloud... or very something-as-a-service.

That is what we are here for and we are doing what we can to help.

NeISS are using resources across the 8 institutions and using or evaluating NGS services including the workload management service to distribute jobs; the SARoNGS service as a means of authentication, and the cloud prototypes for development.

We are working with them to understand how we can improve our services, so that they can use them and they can get on with that whole `making the world a better place' business.

1 comment:

Andy Turner said...

It's great to have your help and support :-)