IDAS: ‘Automagic’ HPC With Training Wheels

By Elizabeth Leake

September 12, 2019

High-performance computing (HPC) for research is notorious for having steep barriers to entry. For this reason, high-tech disciplines were early adopters, have used the most cycles and typically drove hardware and software purchasing decisions. But as more fields engage with data-intensive research and artificial intelligence (AI) workflows, data-center hardware and software landscapes are changing to meet a larger and more diverse community of practice.

The University of Iowa’s (UI) Interactive Data Analytics Service (IDAS) is an HPC resource that supports large-scale and collaborative data analytics workflows involving RStudio for R and Jupyter Notebook for Python (but not limited to Python). Applications via the IDAS interface look and feel like they do on a regular workstation, but with access to thousands of times the computing power. IDAS has its own HPC and graphics processing units (GPUs) and allows users to perform interactive data analysis tasks with applications used for machine learning and AI. In the future, the UI Research Services development team will assist with custom environments. There are plans to add a feature that allows researchers to access Iowa’s Argon supercomputer if more power is needed, or to purchase commercial cloud if locally-hosted HPC isn’t enough.

While RStudio for classroom use is available, RStudio commercial licensing terms changed and pricing increased midstream as IDAS was being developed. Therefore, until a more affordable and dynamic license distribution method is available, IDAS employs the free RStudio classroom license. In the future, a remote desktop feature will be added.

IDAS especially appeals to those who may not have used HPC in the past, but whose data-intensive research would benefit from advanced computational capabilities. Such disciplines are often referred to as, “the long tail of science,” and many have begun to engage with AI methodologies which make their work more computationally-intensive than ever. While they aren’t always the biggest compute consumers, their collective needs represent critical mass that IDAS accommodates quite well.

Experimentation within IDAS is safe with associated storage options that are appropriate for most classifications of data. Sensitive data should be evaluated for IDAS consideration on a case-by-case basis. “If you aren’t sure about your data’s classification, you can arrange a consultation with our compliance specialist,” said Research Services Director Danny Tang.

IDAS Jupyter Notebook serves both general research and classroom needs which were optimized during its pilot phase. A dozen faculty and staff from six departments test-drove the research platform for several months, and classroom attributes were trialed by students in Data Scientist Kang Lee’s (UI Research Services; College of Business) summer business analytics class.

Paul Gowder, UI College of Law

At the time of the mid-August launch, eight classroom instances were registered, including one by Professor Paul Gowder (UI College of Law). Gowder’s research involves the impact of machine learning and predictive modeling on both the practice and concept of law. “I’m planning to use IDAS in my ‘Introduction to Quantitative and Computational Legal Reasoning’ course, and may also utilize it for my research involving AI to understand contracts and records from publicly-available court documents,” said Gowder.

Teaching Assistant James Kent (UI Interdisciplinary Graduate Program in Neuroscience) aides Professor Michelle Voss with Iowa’s structural/functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) methods course. “Our two biggest challenges were installing software on heterogeneous hardware, and random-access memory (RAM) restrictions when running a virtual machine,” said Kent. “With Jupyter Notebook on IDAS, the HPC is handled in the background; this provides students with enough computational power to complete full analyses on real MRI data, not the toy datasets we always curated for this class,” he added.

Kent explained how useful he imagines IDAS will be for workshops, too. Since most are one to three hours in length, less instructional time will be spent installing software and/or learning how to master the hardware. “Some students get discouraged if the preparation phase is too tedious; it presents an unnecessary hurdle,” he said. “If students feel this time is wasted, some may skip the workshop, leave early or walk away with the impression that programming is inaccessible to them,” he added.

Outside of the formal classroom setting, Kent thinks IDAS will be perfect for hackathons. “They’re often about prototyping and Jupyter Notebooks provides a great platform on which to interact with code and receive immediate feedback,” said Kent. In the past, a downside of hackathons was that machine learning models can take a lot of RAM and/or use significant GPU power. HPC is the answer for increased RAM and GPU usage, but mastery of Jupyter Notebooks was difficult with the traditional HPC interface. Kent expressed appreciation for IDAS’ development, and sustained back-end management when he said, “IDAS combines Jupyter Notebooks’ ease of prototyping with the power of HPC that runs and scales ‘automagically’ in the background!”

Prof. Michelle Voss and TA James Kent from the Interdisciplinary Graduate Program in Neuroscience leading Brainhack 2019
Brandon LeBeau

Brandon LeBeau (UI College of Education) uses IDAS in an introductory statistics course that allows future educators to explore statistical concepts, remove assumption barriers in the statistical analysis, and introduces them to best practices surrounding script-based analyses. “The goal for this course is for students to learn how to reason with data and make appropriate statistical/data arguments, vs. learning how to program,” he said, and added, “This hands-on approach will help them on their journey to becoming stronger data connoisseurs.”

The computation component in IDAS’ Jupyter Notebooks instance, with an R kernel, gives students access to a modern computing environment without requiring an instructor who doubles as an information technology (IT) professional. “The user experience is also oblivious to compute functions managed by Research Services on the back-end; otherwise the need for programming skills would become a barrier to entry for many students and faculty alike,” said LeBeau.

IDAS was the brainchild of former UI Research Services Director Ben Rogers who aligned the necessary collaborations and allocated funds to make his vision a reality. It was developed by Lee and Interactive Systems Lead Cody B. Johnson. Research Services would like to thank Chris Wilkins and Kevin Zhu of the UI Core IT Facilities Group for their help with deploying IDAS.

“While ten other universities that we know of have similar environments, Iowa is one of the first to host a large-scale, cloud-enabled and expanded HPC resource,” said Lee. “We’re excited about the number of Iowa colleges and departments that engaged in our pilot, and some of the novel applications they’re pursuing on IDAS,” he added.

For more information, visit the U-Iowa ITS-Research Services website.

About the Author

HPCwire Contributing Editor Elizabeth Leake is a consultant, correspondent and advocate who serves the global high performance computing (HPC) and data science industries. In 2012, she founded STEM-Trek, a global, grassroots nonprofit organization that supports workforce development opportunities for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) scholars from underserved regions and underrepresented groups.

As a program director, Leake has mentored hundreds of early-career professionals who are breaking cultural barriers in an effort to accelerate scientific and engineering discoveries. Her multinational programs have specific themes that resonate with global stakeholders, such as food security data science, blockchain for social good, cybersecurity/risk mitigation, and more. As a conference blogger and communicator, her work drew recognition when STEM-Trek received the 2016 and 2017 HPCwire Editors’ Choice Awards for Workforce Diversity Leadership.

An earlier version of this article appears on the University of Iowa 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!

Supercomputer Research Reveals Star Cluster Born Outside Our Galaxy

July 11, 2020

The Milky Way is our galactic home, containing our solar system and continuing into a giant band of densely packed stars that stretches across clear night skies around the world – but, it turns out, not all of those st Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Max Planck Society Begins Installation of Liquid-Cooled Supercomputer from Lenovo

July 9, 2020

Lenovo announced today that it is supplying a new high performance computer to the Max Planck Society, one of Germany's premier research organizations. Comprised of Intel Xeon processors and Nvidia A100 GPUs, and featuri Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Xilinx Announces First Adaptive Computing Challenge

July 9, 2020

A new contest is challenging the computing world. Xilinx has announced the first Xilinx Adaptive Computing Challenge, a competition that will task developers and startups with finding creative workload acceleration solutions. Xilinx is running the Adaptive Computing Challenge in partnership with, a developing community... Read more…

By Staff report

Reviving Moore’s Law? LBNL Researchers See Promise in Heterostructure Oxides

July 9, 2020

The reality of Moore’s law’s decline is no longer doubted for good empirical reasons. That said, never say never. Recent work by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory researchers suggests heterostructure oxides may b Read more…

By John Russell

President’s Council Targets AI, Quantum, STEM; Recommends Spending Growth

July 9, 2020

Last week the President Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) met (webinar) to review policy recommendations around three sub-committee reports: 1) Industries of the Future (IotF), chaired be Dario Gil (d Read more…

By John Russell

AWS Solution Channel

Best Practices for Running Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) Workloads on AWS

The scalable nature and variable demand of CFD workloads makes them well-suited for a cloud computing environment. Many of the AWS instance types, such as the compute family instance types, are designed to include support for this type of workload.  Read more…

Intel® HPC + AI Pavilion

Supercomputing the Pandemic: Scientific Community Tackles COVID-19 from Multiple Perspectives

Since their inception, supercomputers have taken on the biggest, most complex, and most data-intensive computing challenges—from confirming Einstein’s theories about gravitational waves to predicting the impacts of climate change. Read more…

Penguin Computing Brings Cascade Lake-AP to OCP Form Factor

July 7, 2020

Penguin Computing, a subsidiary of SMART Global Holdings, Inc., announced yesterday (July 6) a new Tundra server, Tundra AP, that is the first to implement the Intel Xeon Scalable 9200 series processors (codenamed Cascad Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Max Planck Society Begins Installation of Liquid-Cooled Supercomputer from Lenovo

July 9, 2020

Lenovo announced today that it is supplying a new high performance computer to the Max Planck Society, one of Germany's premier research organizations. Comprise Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

President’s Council Targets AI, Quantum, STEM; Recommends Spending Growth

July 9, 2020

Last week the President Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) met (webinar) to review policy recommendations around three sub-committee reports: Read more…

By John Russell

Google Cloud Debuts 16-GPU Ampere A100 Instances

July 7, 2020

On the heels of the Nvidia’s Ampere A100 GPU launch in May, Google Cloud is announcing alpha availability of the A100 “Accelerator Optimized” VM A2 instance family on Google Compute Engine. The instances are powered by the HGX A100 16-GPU platform, which combines two HGX A100 8-GPU baseboards using... Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Q&A: HLRS’s Bastian Koller Tackles HPC and Industry in Germany and Europe

July 6, 2020

In this exclusive interview for HPCwire – sadly not face to face – Steve Conway, senior advisor for Hyperion Research, talks with Dr.-Ing Bastian Koller about the state of HPC and its collaboration with Industry in Europe. Koller is a familiar figure in HPC. He is the managing director at High Performance Computing Center Stuttgart (HLRS) and also serves... Read more…

By Steve Conway, Hyperion

OpenPOWER Reboot – New Director, New Silicon Partners, Leveraging Linux Foundation Connections

July 2, 2020

Earlier this week the OpenPOWER Foundation announced the contribution of IBM’s A21 Power processor core design to the open source community. Roughly this time Read more…

By John Russell

Hyperion Forecast – Headwinds in 2020 Won’t Stifle Cloud HPC Adoption or Arm’s Rise

June 30, 2020

The semiannual taking of HPC’s pulse by Hyperion Research – late fall at SC and early summer at ISC – is a much-watched indicator of things come. This yea Read more…

By John Russell

Racism and HPC: a Special Podcast

June 29, 2020

Promoting greater diversity in HPC is a much-discussed goal and ostensibly a long-sought goal in HPC. Yet it seems clear HPC is far from achieving this goal. Re Read more…

Top500 Trends: Movement on Top, but Record Low Turnover

June 25, 2020

The 55th installment of the Top500 list saw strong activity in the leadership segment with four new systems in the top ten and a crowning achievement from the f Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Supercomputer Modeling Tests How COVID-19 Spreads in Grocery Stores

April 8, 2020

In the COVID-19 era, many people are treating simple activities like getting gas or groceries with caution as they try to heed social distancing mandates and protect their own health. Still, significant uncertainty surrounds the relative risk of different activities, and conflicting information is prevalent. A team of Finnish researchers set out to address some of these uncertainties by... Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

[email protected] Turns Its Massive Crowdsourced Computer Network Against COVID-19

March 16, 2020

For gamers, fighting against a global crisis is usually pure fantasy – but now, it’s looking more like a reality. As supercomputers around the world spin up Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

[email protected] Rallies a Legion of Computers Against the Coronavirus

March 24, 2020

Last week, we highlighted [email protected], a massive, crowdsourced computer network that has turned its resources against the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the globe – but [email protected] isn’t the only game in town. The internet is buzzing with crowdsourced computing... Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Supercomputer Simulations Reveal the Fate of the Neanderthals

May 25, 2020

For hundreds of thousands of years, neanderthals roamed the planet, eventually (almost 50,000 years ago) giving way to homo sapiens, which quickly became the do Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

DoE Expands on Role of COVID-19 Supercomputing Consortium

March 25, 2020

After announcing the launch of the COVID-19 High Performance Computing Consortium on Sunday, the Department of Energy yesterday provided more details on its sco Read more…

By John Russell

Honeywell’s Big Bet on Trapped Ion Quantum Computing

April 7, 2020

Honeywell doesn’t spring to mind when thinking of quantum computing pioneers, but a decade ago the high-tech conglomerate better known for its control systems waded deliberately into the then calmer quantum computing (QC) waters. Fast forward to March when Honeywell announced plans to introduce an ion trap-based quantum computer whose ‘performance’ would... Read more…

By John Russell

Neocortex Will Be First-of-Its-Kind 800,000-Core AI Supercomputer

June 9, 2020

Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center (PSC - a joint research organization of Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh) has won a $5 million award Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Global Supercomputing Is Mobilizing Against COVID-19

March 12, 2020

Tech has been taking some heavy losses from the coronavirus pandemic. Global supply chains have been disrupted, virtually every major tech conference taking place over the next few months has been canceled... Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Leading Solution Providers


Nvidia’s Ampere A100 GPU: Up to 2.5X the HPC, 20X the AI

May 14, 2020

Nvidia's first Ampere-based graphics card, the A100 GPU, packs a whopping 54 billion transistors on 826mm2 of silicon, making it the world's largest seven-nanom Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

10nm, 7nm, 5nm…. Should the Chip Nanometer Metric Be Replaced?

June 1, 2020

The biggest cool factor in server chips is the nanometer. AMD beating Intel to a CPU built on a 7nm process node* – with 5nm and 3nm on the way – has been i Read more…

By Doug Black

‘Billion Molecules Against COVID-19’ Challenge to Launch with Massive Supercomputing Support

April 22, 2020

Around the world, supercomputing centers have spun up and opened their doors for COVID-19 research in what may be the most unified supercomputing effort in hist Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Australian Researchers Break All-Time Internet Speed Record

May 26, 2020

If you’ve been stuck at home for the last few months, you’ve probably become more attuned to the quality (or lack thereof) of your internet connection. Even Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

15 Slides on Programming Aurora and Exascale Systems

May 7, 2020

Sometime in 2021, Aurora, the first planned U.S. exascale system, is scheduled to be fired up at Argonne National Laboratory. Cray (now HPE) and Intel are the k Read more…

By John Russell

Summit Supercomputer is Already Making its Mark on Science

September 20, 2018

Summit, now the fastest supercomputer in the world, is quickly making its mark in science – five of the six finalists just announced for the prestigious 2018 Read more…

By John Russell

TACC Supercomputers Run Simulations Illuminating COVID-19, DNA Replication

March 19, 2020

As supercomputers around the world spin up to combat the coronavirus, the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) is announcing results that may help to illumina Read more…

By Staff report

$100B Plan Submitted for Massive Remake and Expansion of NSF

May 27, 2020

Legislation to reshape, expand - and rename - the National Science Foundation has been submitted in both the U.S. House and Senate. The proposal, which seems to Read more…

By John Russell

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!
Share This