Compute Canada consulting widely in preparation for CFI funding opportunity

Guest Contributor
June 26, 2014

Global HPC standing deteriorating

Compute Canada is leaving nothing to chance as it prepares to formally apply for urgently needed funds for new high performance computing (HPC) equipment. The national organization for the coordination and design of HPC infrastructure contends that winning the $50-million cyber-infrastructure competition by the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) is essential for placing Canadian researchers back on par with its international colleagues after suffering serious slippage in recent years.

Despite its success in securing $56 million in CFI funds to support 40% of operating and maintenance costs of HPC facilities across Canada, the federal government has not invested in HPC infrastructure since 2006. Consequently, Canada's international ranking is falling as other nations update their infrastructure with ever more powerful systems and capabilities.

There's an October deadline for submitting a renewal plan covering 2016 to 2021 and if the proposal is accepted funds will begin to flow by mid-2016.

In the meantime, Canada's cyber-infrastructure is strained, lacks an overarching national policy, and is uncoordinated, according to Drs Jay Black and Steven Liss who wrote a RE$EARCH MONEY column on the issue (R$, January 24/14). They cautioned that Canada stands to lose further ground without progressive and integrated planning and support for advanced computing, networking, data visualization and analytics, and data management.

In preparation for the CFI competition, Compute Canada is finalizing a strategic plan and has spearheaded the formation of an engagement and consultation forum called Sustainable Planning for Advanced Computing (SPARC) . It includes a call for discipline-specific white papers to determine the precise needs of the growing list of research activities that increasingly rely on HPC to carry out world class research.

"The CFI's cyber-infrastructure initiative will help to refresh the current fleet of systems," says Mark Dietrich, Compute Canada's recently installed president and CEO. "The challenge is the service mentality. Traditional customers would like more capacity but they're happy with the current facilities. New disciplines like life sciences, sociology and the digital humanities are looking for new interfaces to make computing easier to get to. It's a must-have."

With the cyber-infrastructure system evolving rapidly and the demand of data storage and big data capacity experiencing exponential growth, the need to consult widely and constantly has become imperative.

"We need to highlight the need to tie infrastructure investments to what the science needs and SPARC is designed to address this," says Dietrich, adding that the CFI requires a response from Compute Canada earlier than SPARC can generate the necessary intelligence.

Dietrich notes that the needs of the social sciences and humanities (SSH) research community are different from traditional HPC users such as physics, genomics and materials science. While SSH demands on computing resources are modest in comparison, innovation in access and the framework of systems must also be nurtured.

"We provide a training and handholding service for the social sciences and humanities to develop a vision of where we should be going," he says. "These advanced research computing resources are leveraging the physical investments we might make."

Compute Canada and the regional HPC centres it represents are only part of Canada's cyber-infrastructure. The role of overall coordination is being led by the Digital Infrastructure Leadership Council (DILC), which represents Compute Canada, CANARIE and other key stakeholders in the creation of a world-leading, advanced digital infrastructure ecosystem for Canada.

A life sciences app

To facilitate greater use of HPC resources by the life sciences sector, a new Genetics and Gemonics Analysis Platform (GenAP) has been developed. Funded by CANARIE and Genome Canada, the mixed architecture infrastructure enables rapid data sharing and the implementation of advanced analysis tools on a national scale.

Using cloud-based virtual machines, GenAP offers secure genomic web-based services through frontal servers located at Compute Centres that serve as hosts for the GenAP portal and databases.

GenAP is being highlighted at this week's High Performance Computing Symposium in Halifax where more than 260 computing experts and researchers have convened to discuss cutting edge issues such as bioinformatics, big data and analytics, computational materials science, ocean and atmosphere modelling, computational chemistry and data cave visualization.


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