Democratizing HPC: OSC Releases Version 1.3 of OnDemand

By John Russell

May 16, 2018

Making HPC resources readily available and easier to use for scientists who may have less HPC expertise is an ongoing challenge. Open OnDemand is a project by the Ohio Supercomputing Center (OSC) funded with an National Science Foundation grant to develop open source software that provides HPC centers with advanced web and graphical interface capabilities to ease access to their HPC resources. Recently, OSC released version 1.3 of OnDemand which has been steadily gaining traction.

“To date, the OnDemand software has been installed at about a dozen academic HPC centers and two companies,” said Alan Chalker, OSC’s director of strategic programs. “OSC’s installation has had 1,500 users in the past several years with over 100,000 app launches serving scientists and engineers in 28 distinct fields of science.”

Through Open OnDemand, HPC clients can upload and download files, create, edit, submit and monitor jobs, create and share apps, run GUI applications and connect via SSH, all via a web browser, with no client software to install and configure. All that’s needed is a web browser, a username and a password to access powerful computing services according to OSC.

OSC reports the median time from initial HPC log-in to first HPC job submission in 2017 for clients using OnDemand was 10 times faster than clients using traditional HPC access methods. The OnDemand project began with grand goals as shown in this excerpt from the original grant issued in July 2015:

“Supercomputing, or High-Performance Computing (HPC), has the power to advance work in all fields of science and engineering. Unfortunately, the impact of HPC is often limited simply because the computers themselves are difficult to use and scientists and engineers would rather spend their time advancing their disciplines than learn HPC. Learning esoteric commands is a hurdle to many students and researchers when they first begin to work with traditional HPC systems, which has contributed to the relatively small proportions of women, minorities, and persons with disabilities within related STEM fields. The Open OnDemand project addresses this problem through innovative software that makes HPC no more difficult than using a desktop computer or a web site, hence reducing that initial learning curve.”

The list of OnDemand adopters so far is impressive – OSC; Johns Hopkins University – Maryland Advanced Research Computing Center (MARCC); Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center; Texas A&M (HRPC); Tufts University; University at Buffalo, SUNY – Center for Computational Research; University of Arizona; and University of Utah. OSC has a video explaining the project along with a Github page with more information.

“Our continuing development of Open OnDemand is aimed at making the package easier to use and more powerful at the same time,” said David Hudak, interim executive director of OSC. “Open OnDemand 1.3’s RPM Package Manager simplifies the installation and updating of OnDemand versions and enables OSC to do more releases more frequently.”

“Also, because clients don’t need to build anything from source, the 1.3 installation process is faster,” said Eric Franz, web and interface application lead engineer at OSC. “And the center is able to provide access to the latest versions of OnDemand that are used internally here.”

OnDemand can be installed on a variety of HPC systems, such as RHEL and CentOS 6 and Cent OS 7, and on a variety of resource managers such as Torque, PBS Pro, LSF, Slurm and SGE. As noted earlier, it is already being used at a number of HPC centers, and is being evaluated at others.

Highlights of Open OnDemand 1.3 include:

  • Configuration changes no longer require app rebuilds
  • Xfce support of interactive desktops
  • Cluster configuration verification script
  • Ignoring apps if they have a period in the directory name
  • Enabling multiple dashboard announcements with embedded HTML
  • Opening “help” links in a new window
  • Make “Interactive Sessions” link top-level item
  • Better debugging of Interactive Apps by logging shell commands
  • A display list of nodes on which a job is running
  • Many bug fixes

Link to OSC OnDemand video: https://vimeo.com/262284498

Link to press release: https://www.osc.edu/press/ohio_supercomputer_center_upgrades_open_source_hpc_access_portal

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