eScience: It’s Really About People

By Nicole Hemsoth

October 26, 2007

Even though the buzz about eScience often focuses on massive hardware, user interfaces, storage capacity and other technical issues, in the end, the ability of eScience to serve the needs of scientific research teams boils down to people: the ability of the builders of the infrastructure to communicate with its users and understand their needs and the realities of their work cultures.

The builders of eScience infrastructure “need to talk about fostering, rather than building infrastructure,” said Alex Voss of the National Center for e-Social Science in Manchester, UK, and research theme leader at the e-Science Institute in Edinburgh, UK. There are social aspects to research that must be recognized — from understanding how research teams work and interact to realizing that research often does not involve the kinds of large, interdisciplinary projects engaged in by virtual organizations, but rather individual work and ad-hoc, flexible forms of collaboration within wider communities.

Voss was one of four panelists who discussed how to reduce the barriers that still inhibit scientists from becoming e-scientists. The discussion was part of the 2007 Microsoft eScience Workshop, hosted by the Renaissance Computing Institute (RENCI), in Chapel Hill, NC, Oct. 21-23. Also offering their thoughts on the barriers to broad eScience adoption were Ian Foster, director of the Computation Institute at the University of Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory, Phil Papadopoulus, director of grid and cluster computing at the San Diego Supercomputer Center, and May Wang of the Emory-Georgia Tech Nanotechnology Center for Personalized and Predictive Oncology. All the panelists agreed that scientific communities must have easy-to-use applications and interfaces and easy access to stored data to become users of eScience grids. And they concurred that both grid researchers and users must work on cross-disciplinary and cross-cultural communications.

“We need applications, that’s obvious,” said Foster. “But perhaps we need to put more effort into communicating how these applications work. That’s probably the single thing we can do that will make the biggest difference: go out and tell the story about successes when applications work, and also tell them when applications don’t work, so they can avoid the pitfalls.”

Foster noted wryly that in the past, “science advanced one funeral at a time,” allowing new ideas to take hold only as those who advocated older paradigms passed away. On a more positive note, he said the ubiquitous connectivity offered by the Internet, the Web and grids “allows us to reach out, to share our interests, make discoveries, and apply new methods more rapidly and effectively than in the past.”

Papadopoulus pointed to both technical and social barriers to the adoption of eScience. Although raw storage is cheap, access to data isn’t, he said, and the eScience community must address questions about how to access data that is stored remotely, stored offline or behind firewalls. Papadopoulus also challenged infrastructure creators to develop systems that are repeatable. A set of software tools should be transferable to any user’s work environment, without the aid of a systems administrator. The steps of a workflow should be repeatable and easy to communicate to another user.

In addition, he noted that the social realities of scientific communities can inhibit the adoption of eScience. Scientists in some domains have only recently started to share their data, a process that is the norm in well-established eScience domains, such as high-energy physics. The grid research community also has its customs that can inhibit broader adoption, according to Papadopoulos.

“Grid research is research, and researchers are rewarded for their research, for coming up with new ideas on how to use network technology and for writing papers, not really for easing the use of software,” he said.

Wang, an expert in biocomputing and bioinformatics, speculated on why the biomedical community has been relatively slow to adopt eScience practices. She stressed that eScience tools must be more intuitive for the biomedical community to use them. These researchers — often doctors with clinical practices — have little in-depth knowledge of computing and no time to learn it, said Wang. They are problem driven and will turn to eScience only if they see that it will help them address the big questions in medicine. In addition, the medical community would likely feel more at home with eScience if some general computer science were part of their educational curriculum.

“Teaching the basics of computer science, learning some of the computer science languages and how to use computer tools to solve problems would help to overcome some of the barriers,” said Wang. “Now, many of our scientists wouldn’t even know how to begin a dialogue with a computer scientist. But they can learn by doing if they start at a young age.”

More than 260 scientists, industry and university-based grid researchers, faculty and administrators with funding agencies attended the Microsoft eScience Workshop, which was co-chaired by RENCI Director Dan Reed and Microsoft’s Vice President of External Research Tony Hey. Participants came from across the U.S., Europe, Canada, South America and Australia.

In the long run, the lasting effects of high-speed networks, data stores, computing systems, sensor networks, and collaborative technologies that make eScience possible will be up to the people who create it and use it, said Reed in his address to attendees.

“The instrumented life — in which we have biomarkers for disease risks, real-time monitoring of our food intake and exercise routines, analysis of air quality and other environmental factors — could seem like 1984 rather than 2010,” said Reed. “On the other hand, it could have enormous implications for improving our health and our lives. Is it good or bad? Probably a little of both.”

The conference wrapped up on Tuesday with a keynote session featuring Hey and David Heckerman, also of Microsoft Research. Heckerman told the audience about research that applies his machine-learning technologies to computational biology and personalized medicine. The work could play a role in developing effective vaccines for HIV and AIDS. Heckerman’s statistical models, sometimes called graphical models or Bayesian networks, can also be used for genome-wide association studies — the search for connections between human DNA and disease.

Hey’s talk, called eScience and Digital Scholarship, looked towards tools and technologies required for the whole eScience Data Life Cycle and a coming revolution in scholarly communication. He concluded that the future of eScience will be a mix of software and services “in the cloud.”

More information

Microsoft eScience Workshop at RENCI:
Computation Institute:
Emory-Georgia Tech Nanotechnology Center for Personalized and Predictive Oncology:
e-Science Institute:
National Center for e-Social Science:
San Diego Supercomputer Center:


Source: RENCI

Subscribe to HPCwire's Weekly Update!

Be the most informed person in the room! Stay ahead of the tech trends with industy updates delivered to you every week!

Mellanox Reacts to Activist Investor Pressures in Letter to Shareholders

March 16, 2018

Activist investor Starboard Value has been exerting pressure on Mellanox Technologies to increase its returns. In response, the high-performance networking company on Monday, March 12, published a letter to shareholders outlining its proposal for a May 2018 extraordinary general meeting (EGM) of shareholders and highlighting its long-term growth strategy and focus on operating margin improvement. Read more…

By Staff

Quantum Computing vs. Our ‘Caveman Newtonian Brain’: Why Quantum Is So Hard

March 15, 2018

Quantum is coming. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon enough. Within 10 to 12 years, we’re told, special-purpose quantum systems will enter the commercial realm. Assuming this happens, we can also assume that quantum will, over extended time, become increasingly general purpose as it delivers mind-blowing power. Read more…

By Doug Black

How the Cloud Is Falling Short for HPC

March 15, 2018

The last couple of years have seen cloud computing gradually build some legitimacy within the HPC world, but still the HPC industry lies far behind enterprise IT in its willingness to outsource computational power. The m Read more…

By Chris Downing

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

Achieve Optimal Performance at Scale with High Performance Fabrics for HPC

High Performance Computing (HPC) is unlocking a new era of speed and productivity to fuel business transformation. Rapid advancements in HPC capabilities are helping organizations operate faster and more effectively than ever, but in today’s fast-paced marketplace, a new generation of technologies is required to reach greater scalability and cost-efficiency. Read more…

Stephen Hawking, Legendary Scientist, Dies at 76

March 14, 2018

Stephen Hawking passed away at his home in Cambridge, England, in the early morning of March 14; he was 76. Born on January 8, 1942, Hawking was an English theoretical physicist, cosmologist, author and director of resea Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

How the Cloud Is Falling Short for HPC

March 15, 2018

The last couple of years have seen cloud computing gradually build some legitimacy within the HPC world, but still the HPC industry lies far behind enterprise I Read more…

By Chris Downing

Stephen Hawking, Legendary Scientist, Dies at 76

March 14, 2018

Stephen Hawking passed away at his home in Cambridge, England, in the early morning of March 14; he was 76. Born on January 8, 1942, Hawking was an English theo Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Hyperion Tackles Elusive Quantum Computing Landscape

March 13, 2018

Quantum computing - exciting and off-putting all at once - is a kaleidoscope of technology and market questions whose shapes and positions are far from settled. Read more…

By John Russell

Part Two: Navigating Life Sciences Choppy HPC Waters in 2018

March 8, 2018

2017 was not necessarily the best year to build a large HPC system for life sciences say Ari Berman, VP and GM of consulting services, and Aaron Gardner, direct Read more…

By John Russell

Google Chases Quantum Supremacy with 72-Qubit Processor

March 7, 2018

Google pulled ahead of the pack this week in the race toward "quantum supremacy," with the introduction of a new 72-qubit quantum processor called Bristlecone. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

SciNet Launches Niagara, Canada’s Fastest Supercomputer

March 5, 2018

SciNet and the University of Toronto today unveiled "Niagara," Canada's most-powerful supercomputer, comprising 1,500 dense Lenovo ThinkSystem SD530 high-perfor Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Part One: Deep Dive into 2018 Trends in Life Sciences HPC

March 1, 2018

Life sciences is an interesting lens through which to see HPC. It is perhaps not an obvious choice, given life sciences’ relative newness as a heavy user of H Read more…

By John Russell

Alibaba Cloud Launches ‘Bare Metal,’ HPC Instances in Europe

February 28, 2018

Alibaba, the e-commerce giant from China, is taking a run at AWS in the global public cloud computing market with new offerings aimed at the surging demand for Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Inventor Claims to Have Solved Floating Point Error Problem

January 17, 2018

"The decades-old floating point error problem has been solved," proclaims a press release from inventor Alan Jorgensen. The computer scientist has filed for and Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Japan Unveils Quantum Neural Network

November 22, 2017

The U.S. and China are leading the race toward productive quantum computing, but it's early enough that ultimate leadership is still something of an open questi Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Researchers Measure Impact of ‘Meltdown’ and ‘Spectre’ Patches on HPC Workloads

January 17, 2018

Computer scientists from the Center for Computational Research, State University of New York (SUNY), University at Buffalo have examined the effect of Meltdown Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

IBM Begins Power9 Rollout with Backing from DOE, Google

December 6, 2017

After over a year of buildup, IBM is unveiling its first Power9 system based on the same architecture as the Department of Energy CORAL supercomputers, Summit a Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Fast Forward: Five HPC Predictions for 2018

December 21, 2017

What’s on your list of high (and low) lights for 2017? Volta 100’s arrival on the heels of the P100? Appearance, albeit late in the year, of IBM’s Power9? Read more…

By John Russell

Nvidia Responds to Google TPU Benchmarking

April 10, 2017

Nvidia highlights strengths of its newest GPU silicon in response to Google's report on the performance and energy advantages of its custom tensor processor. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Russian Nuclear Engineers Caught Cryptomining on Lab Supercomputer

February 12, 2018

Nuclear scientists working at the All-Russian Research Institute of Experimental Physics (RFNC-VNIIEF) have been arrested for using lab supercomputing resources to mine crypto-currency, according to a report in Russia’s Interfax News Agency. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Chip Flaws ‘Meltdown’ and ‘Spectre’ Loom Large

January 4, 2018

The HPC and wider tech community have been abuzz this week over the discovery of critical design flaws that impact virtually all contemporary microprocessors. T Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Leading Solution Providers

GlobalFoundries, Ayar Labs Team Up to Commercialize Optical I/O

December 4, 2017

GlobalFoundries (GF) and Ayar Labs, a startup focused on using light, instead of electricity, to transfer data between chips, today announced they've entered in Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

How Meltdown and Spectre Patches Will Affect HPC Workloads

January 10, 2018

There have been claims that the fixes for the Meltdown and Spectre security vulnerabilities, named the KPTI (aka KAISER) patches, are going to affect applicatio Read more…

By Rosemary Francis

Perspective: What Really Happened at SC17?

November 22, 2017

SC is over. Now comes the myriad of follow-ups. Inboxes are filled with templated emails from vendors and other exhibitors hoping to win a place in the post-SC thinking of booth visitors. Attendees of tutorials, workshops and other technical sessions will be inundated with requests for feedback. Read more…

By Andrew Jones

V100 Good but not Great on Select Deep Learning Aps, Says Xcelerit

November 27, 2017

Wringing optimum performance from hardware to accelerate deep learning applications is a challenge that often depends on the specific application in use. A benc Read more…

By John Russell

Lenovo Unveils Warm Water Cooled ThinkSystem SD650 in Rampup to LRZ Install

February 22, 2018

This week Lenovo took the wraps off the ThinkSystem SD650 high-density server with third-generation direct water cooling technology developed in tandem with par Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

AMD Wins Another: Baidu to Deploy EPYC on Single Socket Servers

December 13, 2017

When AMD introduced its EPYC chip line in June, the company said a portion of the line was specifically designed to re-invigorate a single socket segment in wha Read more…

By John Russell

World Record: Quantum Computer with 46 Qubits Simulated

December 18, 2017

Scientists from the Jülich Supercomputing Centre have set a new world record. Together with researchers from Wuhan University and the University of Groningen, Read more…

New Blueprint for Converging HPC, Big Data

January 18, 2018

After five annual workshops on Big Data and Extreme-Scale Computing (BDEC), a group of international HPC heavyweights including Jack Dongarra (University of Te Read more…

By John Russell

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
Share This