Thursday, 27 October 2011

A smattering of updates

Over conference season there was what can only be described as a smattering of small announcements that you may have missed during your travels.  The blog seems like an ideal place to gather these together!

NGS News
The latest edition of our quarterly newsletter was released in time for conference season.  Available to download from our website, September’s edition contains articles on -
  • A round up of news from Europe including the release of the first Unified Middleware Distribution
  • An introduction to the new Certificate Wizard
  • Championing e-Research and e-infrastructure - the Campus and Community Champions
  • NGS user case study - Using the NGS to model the climate impact of aircraft emissions
  • ...and more!

Tell us what you think!
Also on the website we have a new poll on the home page.  This time we are asking people how easy it is to find the information they are looking for on the NGS website.  So no matter if you are a frequent or occasional visitor to the NGS website, let us know by voting in our poll.  It can be found on the right hand side of the homepage.

Busy users
There is a new NGS user case study on the website.  Maria Holstensson from the Institute of Cancer Research explains how she is using the NGS to optimise cancer treatment for children suffering neuroblastoma.

Children with neuroblastoma who are being treated with targeted radionuclide therapy can have their treatment monitored with gamma camera images. These images are used to calculate the amount of drug taken up by the tumour and to estimate the radiation dose. However the image quality can be poor due to scattering and interference. Maria Holstensson from the Institute of Cancer Research is looking at tackling these problems.

Maria said "We have had absolutely fantastic help from the NGS and as a result of using the Grid we have been able to run multiple parallel simulations that we would not have been able to run otherwise".

How many?!
We’re pleased to announce that we now have over 1000 subscribers our fortnightly NGS news bulletin.  We have subscribers from all over the UK and much further afield with 21 countries represented amongst our subscribers. 
The news bulletin is delivered to your inbox every second Friday (with some exceptions during conference and holiday season!) and contains news from the NGS, updates from our member sites, details of forthcoming relevant conferences, calls for papers for relevant journals and much more.  You can subscribe to the mailing list from the JISCmail site.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Lounging in Lyon and yawning in York

Oh I wish! 

The September conference season was hectic as always for the NGS team with the EGI Technical Forum (Lyon) and the UK e-Science All Hands Meeting (York) back to back.  There was definitely no time for lounging in the Lyon sunshine although we may have yawned on the train home from York as the conference travel came to an end.

The EGI meeting in Lyon was a great success as always with over 600 attendees.  The meeting is an excellent opportunity for the NGS, in it’s role as the UK National Grid Initiative (NGI), to meet up with other NGI’s from all over Europe.  As well as looking after and organising the UK NGI exhibition stand in conjunction with GridPP, I was also involved in a session in my role as NGS Liaison Officer.

The NGS has held successful roadshow events for several years and these have caught the eye of EGI who are looking at doing something similar through the NGI’s.  I was asked to take part in the EGI / NGI roadshow session and present on my experiences of organising and holding roadshows and measuring the feedback and impact of these events.

There was an interesting discussion after the presentations regarding what the NGI’s would need to host these events and what materials they would find useful.  In some cases more staff and more time would be very helpful but the ability for the EGI to provide these resources are somewhat limited!  I was also asked about practical points such as organising registration and finding the right people in institutions to help host the events.  Hopefully the discussion minutes will be made available at some point.  Some more discussion points were captured on the GridCast blog entry on the session.

The AHM meeting at York attracted 150 people this year and seemed dominated by one word – Cloud!  I lost count of the number of cloud sessions taking place over the 4 days.  The meeting was stimulating and thought provoking judging by the copious amount of notes I took.  However one of the main activities for the NGS was the SeIUCCR organised workshop – Meet the Champions.

The purpose of this workshop was to give attendees an opportunity to meet the researchers that have been promoting and championing research in different e-Science areas and to find out about their work and how they utilise e-infrastructure.  The guest speaker was Scott Lathrop from the XSEDE project where he is the Director for Education, Outreach and Training.  Scott talked about their Campus Champion programme and how they ensure that Campus Champions feel involved and part of the project.  They have many of the same responsibilities as our Campus Champions including raising awareness of XSEDE and even providing training in using the resources. 

Two of our Community Champions also presented at this event outlining the issues in their research areas regarding e-infrastructure, getting started, having the right support at their institution etc.  There was also a very lively discussion panel at the end of the session with many issues raised including how scientific researchers work and the risks involved in devoting time to starting to use new technologies.

It’s great to hear researchers and users speaking about their experiences of actually using this technology, as it sometimes seems, that users get forgotten about in all the discussion about standards and programming.  We need a reminder that at the end of the day this is about building tools and providing a service that people will want to use and find beneficial and that will help further their research.  It’s most definitely not a case of “build it and they shall come”!

I’ll make sure that all the presentations from the AHM workshop are available on the NGS website soon so watch this space!

Thursday, 13 October 2011

A long long time ago... or so it seems

Before the mayhem of the September conference season was upon us, the NGS ran a successful summer school at the beginning of the month.  The e-infrastructure summer school was part of the SeIUCCR project.  You can read more about the background to the summer school and project in my blog post from the beginning of August.

We had over 25 students join us down in Coesner's House in Abingdon for 4 days and they came from a wide variety of backgrounds.  We had students who were in their first year or two of their PhD as well as post docs and they came from Edinburgh to Essex and everywhere inbetween.

So how was the summer school?  Was it a success?  Did the students learn and enjoy it?

Well the best people to ask are the students themselves.  All the students were asked to provide us with feedback and some were even willing to write a few more words.

Ed Day from Canterbury Christ Church University attended the summer school and this is what he had to say:

"The recent SeIUCCR Summer School was a very enjoyable and informative experience. As a newcomer to grid research I found the the summer school extemely useful. It contained some important introductory pieces as well as covering many topics in more depth suitable for anyone wishing to use the NGS. Sessions consisted of a good mix of high level overviews and hands-on practicals such as using the P-GRADE portal.

The presenters were very knowledgable and helpful and were eager to inform on all aspects of grid computing. Some sessions involved the speakers talking individually with attendees and I found the staff gave useful advice and were very supportive of my project.

Before the school I thought my particular research area, the forensic investigation of mobile phones, might be a good fit for grid computing, and by the end of the summer school I felt much more able to pursue my research in an informed manner using the NGS. It was useful to know how grid, cloud and high performance computing relate to one another  and over the four days I feel I became much more aware, in a less naive way, of how my research would benefit from the resources the NGS has to offer. In particular I learnt to think about my research differently: how my phone investigation process would be best able to benefit from a grid architecture.

Indeed the school helped support my view that the NGS would be a good resource for ANY project that needs HPC not just vast number crunching modelling applications such as those such by molecular biologists or quantum level physicists (although of course it is good for that too).

I liked the food too!"

And it wasn't just Ed who enjoyed the summer school!

"The summer school has been a fascinating activity. The hands on sessions have familiarized us with HPC/Grid/Cloud, which are useful resourses that I have never had access to or known how to access, whilst the Meeting Champions and Q&A sessions made it possible for us to know how these resourses could facilitate our research. The SeiUCCR summer school provides a great opportunity of learning, communicating and networking. I would like to thank all the people who made this summer school possible"

"The summer school was a relaxed and friendly environment. It provided detailed information about the various resources available to researchers both in terms of computer resources and support. The staff where very approachable and keen to show an interest in the attendees work. Overall it was a great experience I would recommend to anyone who has an interest in grid/cloud/HPC or who's work may benefit from such technologies."

For anyone who was unsuccessful in obtaining a place at the e-infrastructure summer school, the presentations are now available online.  Due to receiving over 120 applications for the summer school and only having a limited number of places, I know many people were keen to see the presentations.

There will be another summer school in 2012 so watch this space for forthcoming announcements next year!