Accelerating Discovery by Outsourcing the Mundane: An Interview with Ian Foster

By Wolfgang Gentzsch

August 29, 2011

On September 26 – 27, 2011 cloud computing experts and end-users from around the world will gather at the ISC Cloud’11 Conference at the Dorint Hotel in Mannheim, Germany. The conference will focus on compute and data intensive applications, their resources needs in the cloud, and strategies on implementing and deploying cloud infrastructures.

ISC Cloud Conference Chairman Wolfgang Gentzsch spoke with Ian Foster, Director of the Computation Institute, a joint institute of the University of Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory. He is also an Argonne Senior Scientist and Distinguished Fellow, and the Arthur Holly Compton Distinguished Service Professor of Computer Science at the University of Chicago. The Conference Early Bird registration ends August 31.

HPCc: Can, you will be the Keynote Speaker at the second international ISC Cloud’11 conference end of September in Germany which will focus on big data and high performance computing, or, short, HPC in the Cloud. What kind of HPC are you addressing these days which is worth discussing in keynote lecture?

Foster: I am delighted to be invited to speak at ISC Cloud’11, because it gives me an opportunity to speak to my current passion, which is the vital role that software as a service (SaaS) can play in accelerating discovery.

Most discussion of computational science (“HPC”) and cloud emphasizes on-demand computing and storage. But if we focus on hardware alone, we miss the real benefits of the large-scale outsourcing and consequent economies of scale that cloud is about. The biggest IT challenge facing research today is complexity. Certainly, big data demands new storage and computing solutions. But it is establishing and operating the processes required to collect, manage, analyze, share, and archive big data that is taking all of our time and killing creativity. And that’s where outsourcing can be transformative. An entrepreneur can run a small business from a coffee shop, outsourcing essentially every business function–accounting, payroll, customer relationship management, the works–to a SaaS provider. Why can’t a young researcher do the same, and run a research lab from a coffee shop? That’s the question I will pose in my keynote.

HPCc: Looking at the title of your talk: “We’re Smarter than we Think: Accelerating Discovery by Outsourcing the Mundane”, what is the ‘mundane’ you are aiming at outsourcing in science?

Foster: 50 years ago, JCR Licklider estimated that 85% of his “research time” was spent in activities that merely prepared him to think: for example, converting data from one representation to another. Today, that percentage is surely much larger. Exploding data volumes mean that data management activities often become all-consuming. Bureaucratic demands are also greater: a recent US Federal Demonstration Partnership faculty survey found that 42% of research time is spent in non-research activities. Some of these activities are intellectually demanding, but many are straightforward and automatable: in other words, they are mundane. Researchers shouldn’t have to do mundane tasks. They shouldn’t have to recruit and manage people to perform mundane tasks on their behalf. Like small businesses (and increasingly, large businesses, too), they should outsource those tasks to experts, who can do them better and more cheaply.

It is this realization that recently led my colleagues and I to launch Globus Online, a new project that a! ims to provide complex and time-consuming research management processes via SaaS. In the first phases of this project, we’re focused on relatively simple processes, like data movement. But our goal is to make the discovery potential of massive data, exponentially faster computers, and deep interdisciplinary collaboration accessible to every one of the million or more professional researchers worldwide–and to the billions of potential citizen scientists– not just a select few “big science” projects.

HPCc: How is Globus Online being received?

Foster: I’ve been developing research software for a long time, but the reception we’re getting for this work is off the charts. I think the reason is that while much of our prior Grid work addressed the exceptional needs of big science, Globus Online addresses the needs of small science projects. Small science is where most scienti! sts work and where the vast majority of discovery occurs, but it’s an area that hasn’t seen a lot of focus in terms of infrastructure software. It’s also an area where big problems are emerging (because of the data deluge) and where the traditional big science approach (build a big team, construct a custom software solution) isn’t feasible.

HPCc: Any statistics you’d like to mention?

Foster: In the first eight months, we’ve grown to 1600 registered users, and moved close to a petabyte and more than 30 million files.

HPCc: Almost 20 years ago, you started Grid Computing together with a handful of likeminded scientists. Today, you are in the midst of Cloud Computing. Therefore, for me, you are the ideal person to ask about your point ofview of the difference between grids and clouds.

Foster: We defined Grid as being about both (a) “hosting” — on-demand access to elastic computing power, which we saw as a force that could transform the computing industry (e.g., see the Grid book), and (b) “federation” — of resources from many sources, which we saw as both necessary to enable large-scale Grid, and required to enable consumption of resources from multiple providers (e.g., see The Anatomy of the Grid paper).

Cloud is mostly about (a), although we now also see some discussion of (b), with talk of “InterCloud protocols,” etc. Thus, Grid and Cloud are similar from a conceptual viewpoint. However, there are clearly differences in the details. Above all, companies like Amazon have succeeded in realizing the economies of scale that are needed for elastic computing to work–something that Grid, being restricted to either supercomputer centers or in-house computing clusters, never did. That success has been enabled by a mix of technological innovation (e.g., virtualization), business model innovation, and the widespread deployment of high-speed networks, which allow! many small businesses to consume infrastructure as a service offerings.

Looking at where the two technologies are being applied with the greatest success, we might say that “Cloud = Hosting; Grid = Federation.” Cloud has realized the transformative potential of on-demand access; Grid addresses the equally challenging problems of resource integration. Grid needs Cloud to prosper (e.g., Globus Online runs its federation services on Amazon); Cloud needs Grid to scale. I hope that those developing next-generation Cloud systems will build on lessons learned from close to 20 years of work on Grid. They should also, of course, study the work of much earlier pioneers. I recommend Doug Parkhill’s remarkably prescient 1966 book, The Challenge of the Computer Utility.

More information about the even where Ian is set to discuss these topics can be found at the ISC Cloud ’11 website.

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!

Microsoft Wants to Speed Quantum Development

December 12, 2017

Quantum computing continues to make headlines in what remains of 2017 as tech giants jockey to establish a pole position in the race toward commercialization of quantum. This week, Microsoft took the next step in advanci Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

ESnet Now Moving More Than 1 Petabyte/wk

December 12, 2017

Optimizing ESnet (Energy Sciences Network), the world's fastest network for science, is an ongoing process. Recently a two-year collaboration by ESnet users – the Petascale DTN Project – achieved its ambitious goal t Read more…

HPC-as-a-Service Finds Toehold in Iceland

December 11, 2017

While high-demand workloads (e.g., bitcoin mining) can overheat data center cooling capabilities, at least one data center infrastructure provider has announced an HPC-as-a-service offering that features 100 percent fre Read more…

By Doug Black

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

Explore the Origins of Space with COSMOS and Memory-Driven Computing

From the formation of black holes to the origins of space, data is the key to unlocking the secrets of the early universe. Read more…

HPC Iron, Soft, Data, People – It Takes an Ecosystem!

December 11, 2017

Cutting edge advanced computing hardware (aka big iron) does not stand by itself. These computers are the pinnacle of a myriad of technologies that must be carefully woven together by people to create the computational c Read more…

By Alex R. Larzelere

Microsoft Wants to Speed Quantum Development

December 12, 2017

Quantum computing continues to make headlines in what remains of 2017 as tech giants jockey to establish a pole position in the race toward commercialization of Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

HPC Iron, Soft, Data, People – It Takes an Ecosystem!

December 11, 2017

Cutting edge advanced computing hardware (aka big iron) does not stand by itself. These computers are the pinnacle of a myriad of technologies that must be care Read more…

By Alex R. Larzelere

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

Microsoft Spins Cycle Computing into Core Azure Product

December 5, 2017

Last August, cloud giant Microsoft acquired HPC cloud orchestration pioneer Cycle Computing. Since then the focus has been on integrating Cycle’s organization Read more…

By John Russell

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

HPE In-Memory Platform Comes to COSMOS

November 30, 2017

Hewlett Packard Enterprise is on a mission to accelerate space research. In August, it sent the first commercial-off-the-shelf HPC system into space for testing Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

SC17 Cluster Competition: Who Won and Why? Results Analyzed and Over-Analyzed

November 28, 2017

Everyone by now knows that Nanyang Technological University of Singapore (NTU) took home the highest LINPACK Award and the Overall Championship from the recently concluded SC17 Student Cluster Competition. We also already know how the teams did in the Highest LINPACK and Highest HPCG competitions, with Nanyang grabbing bragging rights for both benchmarks. Read more…

By Dan Olds

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

US Coalesces Plans for First Exascale Supercomputer: Aurora in 2021

September 27, 2017

At the Advanced Scientific Computing Advisory Committee (ASCAC) meeting, in Arlington, Va., yesterday (Sept. 26), it was revealed that the "Aurora" supercompute Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

NERSC Scales Scientific Deep Learning to 15 Petaflops

August 28, 2017

A collaborative effort between Intel, NERSC and Stanford has delivered the first 15-petaflops deep learning software running on HPC platforms and is, according Read more…

By Rob Farber

Oracle Layoffs Reportedly Hit SPARC and Solaris Hard

September 7, 2017

Oracle’s latest layoffs have many wondering if this is the end of the line for the SPARC processor and Solaris OS development. As reported by multiple sources Read more…

By John Russell

AMD Showcases Growing Portfolio of EPYC and Radeon-based Systems at SC17

November 13, 2017

AMD’s charge back into HPC and the datacenter is on full display at SC17. Having launched the EPYC processor line in June along with its MI25 GPU the focus he 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

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

GlobalFoundries Puts Wind in AMD’s Sails with 12nm FinFET

September 24, 2017

From its annual tech conference last week (Sept. 20), where GlobalFoundries welcomed more than 600 semiconductor professionals (reaching the Santa Clara venue Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Google Releases Deeplearn.js to Further Democratize Machine Learning

August 17, 2017

Spreading the use of machine learning tools is one of the goals of Google’s PAIR (People + AI Research) initiative, which was introduced in early July. Last w Read more…

By John Russell

Leading Solution Providers

Amazon Debuts New AMD-based GPU Instances for Graphics Acceleration

September 12, 2017

Last week Amazon Web Services (AWS) streaming service, AppStream 2.0, introduced a new GPU instance called Graphics Design intended to accelerate graphics. The Read more…

By John Russell

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

EU Funds 20 Million Euro ARM+FPGA Exascale Project

September 7, 2017

At the Barcelona Supercomputer Centre on Wednesday (Sept. 6), 16 partners gathered to launch the EuroEXA project, which invests €20 million over three-and-a-half years into exascale-focused research and development. Led by the Horizon 2020 program, EuroEXA picks up the banner of a triad of partner projects — ExaNeSt, EcoScale and ExaNoDe — building on their work... Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Delays, Smoke, Records & Markets – A Candid Conversation with Cray CEO Peter Ungaro

October 5, 2017

Earlier this month, Tom Tabor, publisher of HPCwire and I had a very personal conversation with Cray CEO Peter Ungaro. Cray has been on something of a Cinderell Read more…

By Tiffany Trader & Tom Tabor

Tensors Come of Age: Why the AI Revolution Will Help HPC

November 13, 2017

Thirty years ago, parallel computing was coming of age. A bitter battle began between stalwart vector computing supporters and advocates of various approaches to parallel computing. IBM skeptic Alan Karp, reacting to announcements of nCUBE’s 1024-microprocessor system and Thinking Machines’ 65,536-element array, made a public $100 wager that no one could get a parallel speedup of over 200 on real HPC workloads. Read more…

By John Gustafson & Lenore Mullin

Flipping the Flops and Reading the Top500 Tea Leaves

November 13, 2017

The 50th edition of the Top500 list, the biannual publication of the world’s fastest supercomputers based on public Linpack benchmarking results, was released 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

Intel Launches Software Tools to Ease FPGA Programming

September 5, 2017

Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs) have a reputation for being difficult to program, requiring expertise in specialty languages, like Verilog or VHDL. Easin Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

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