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July 22, 2014

XSEDE Allocation System to Receive Makeover

Travis Tate

XSEDE is a set of resources and systems that thousands of researchers, scientists and engineers regularly use to do groundbreaking science. But how does an XSEDE user actually request time on supercomputers or ask for time with XSEDE-supported resource experts? As of now, XSEDE users turn to POPS (Partnerships Online Proposal System), a system that has been in place for users of NSF HPC users since the late 1990s. POPS, however useful it is for XSEDE, cannot be pulled out as a separate system – over the years it has become inextricably intertwined with its native environment.

The XSEDE Resource Allocations Service (XRAS) will change that. Dave Hart, User Services Manager for NCAR’s Computational and Information Systems Laboratory and tapped by XSEDE as group leader for XRAS development and deployment, addressed the future of XRAS at the XSEDE14 Conference in Atlanta.

XRAS will soon make the allocations process easier than it has ever been before – not just for users requesting access to Stampede at TACC or Gordon at SDSC, but also for those who review and administer the allocation requests.

But XRAS is not just a new name and update from POPS – it has been built from the ground up so that it can be released as a general tool to be used by organizations outside of XSEDE.

“What we’ve got isn’t a one-trick pony,” says Hart. “There aren’t any real alternatives to POPS or XRAS, as far as we could tell, so we wanted to build something XSEDE can make available to the broader community. Basically, if any organization has a shared resource that they need to allocate, they could use XRAS, even outside of cyberinfrastructure needs.”

This extension outside of XRAS won’t be the only change.

Three facets of support for allocation processes exist within XRAS, and each has been updated from POPS and re-designed by an XSEDE development team spanning NCSA, TACC, and PSC, including Maytal Dahan, Hackworth, Matthew Hanlon and Amy Schuele.


Improvements in the submission process and look include a complete integration with the XSEDE User Portal and user profiles, particularly to the publications database. Users can easily submit allocations using a step-by-step wizard or a more advanced interface for users who regularly submit requests. The user interface can access a user’s publications from their profile while they are submitting an allocation request. Additionally, while the user updates their information for a request, they can now add additional users, which enables users to be ready to run on XSEDE once an allocation gets approved without any additional steps.

“XRAS is a leap forward in improving the process of allocation requests for the end user,” says Dahan, Deputy Manager for XSEDE User Services. “We want the user’s first experience with XSEDE to be positive and not intimidating. We feel we have accomplished this by improving the user interface, offering clear and concise embedded documentation, and adding a wide array of improvements that have been requested over the years.”


When an allocation request reviewer logs in to XRAS, they will immediately be prompted with the requests that are awaiting their review: essentially a “to-do” list. Additionally, the reviewer can rate their interest in reviewing a particular request. This helps the XSEDE allocation administrator determine which assignments to give each reviewer, as allocations are increasingly distributed over a diverse set of fields.


“The admin side has the fewest users, but the highest degree of difficulty in the allocation process,” says XSEDE’s Allocations Manager Ken Hackworth, of (PSC). Hackworth’s job is essentially to shepherd each request from when it’s submitted until it becomes an allocation award. To meet this goal, XRAS provides tools and interfaces so that Hackworth and other allocation administrators can set up review panels; make assignments for the reviewers; identify conflicts of interest between reviewers and requests; define allocation rules that, for instance, establish needed connections between a supercomputer and its coupled data storage device; make the actual awards; and notify the awardees.

All of the improvements are meant to not only help XSEDE, but other outside organizations, if they choose to use the XRAS-style allocation system. And Hart would like to use it on something he knows very well: his own organization.

“I’m at NCAR and am planning to take advantage of XRAS for our allocation processes,” Hart says. “I want to make NCAR one of the first XRAS clients. That’ll be its first big test as we walk through the process and see if we have wrinkles to iron out.”

Hart plans on rolling out the XRAS-powered NCAR allocation services in May 2015.