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Setting High Standards for Networking and Cyberinfrastructure in New Jersey

By April 2, 2018 No Comments

As a graduate of Rutgers University, it was an easy decision for Dr. James Barr von Oehsen to take the position of Associate Vice President for the Office of Advanced Research Computing (OARC) in March 2016. Returning to his alma mater, he was tasked to help Rutgers become a nationally (and internationally) recognized leader and provider of advanced cyberinfrastructure and to provide strategic leadership in advancing Rutgers University’s research and scholarly achievements on all campuses through next generation computing, data science, networking, and creative learning environments.

Dr. von Oehsen explains some of his immediate priorities, especially as the cyberinfrastructure continues to experience growth and the research computing capabilities become more enhanced. “My goal is to enable research by working very closely with the research community, get their input on their needs, where the bottlenecks are, and then design and build infrastructure to meet these needs and to remove as many of the bottlenecks as possible. This approach, along with an extensive education, outreach, and training program, makes sure that the cyberinfrastructure ecosystem OARC builds will get used optimally and solve many of the issues faced by the research community,” he said.

By providing new technologies and support, it helps keep Rutgers’ research community competitive and makes the university a desirable place to do research. “Our goal is to support as many people as possible as well as to help recruit young research talent to Rutgers,” Dr. von Oehsen explained.

The OARC is a centrally funded support organization providing on-line and in-person training to faculty, staff, and students in the basic use of computing resources; assistance for success in program compiling, installation and running; and code parallelization/optimization. OARC computational scientists are highly trained in the STEM and life sciences and, coupled with their system administration teammates, support and oftentimes collaborate with investigators on demanding problems requiring high performance and high throughput computing, high performance networking, data access and interpretation, visualization in a multitude of scientific disciplines including engineering, physics, chemistry, life and clinical sciences and the humanities.

The centrally managed advanced computing system is designed to feel as close to a local system as possible, so the researcher doesn’t feel a difference between a system managed by their group and an OARC system. In lieu of payment to manage their purchase, OARC asks that unused compute cycles go into a general pool that is open to the entire Rutgers community.

Dr. von Oehsen notes this approach is a very successful model that has been proven over the years, though they have made modifications to the model to include commercial cloud offerings. “We are taking the tried and true model and coupling it directly with cloud resources in a hybrid fashion,” he said. “This gives the researcher several options when it comes to computing needs.” The OARC team helps design the research workflows so that a researcher optimally utilizes the technology (both on premise and in the cloud) so as to be as productive as possible.

One of the reasons OARC is able to bring different entities and statewide research and education networks together in a collaborative manner is due to the partnership with NJEdge. The value of working together provides the ability for future advanced research computing.

“The goal is to put New Jersey on the map with respect to networking and cyberinfrastructure. If people are excited about what I’m saying, I would love for them to reach out to me,” he said. “Let’s have a conversation and figure out how we can work together.”

Dr. von Oehsen said he’d like to take what’s been accomplished at Rutgers a step farther by working directly with colleges and universities across New Jersey and bordering states and think about creating a regional cyberinfrastructure plan. With the help of NJEdge, he would like to extend the Rutgers local research platform to other universities, building a cyberinfrastructure mosaic across the region. “As the regional research platform grows, we would be in an excellent position to become a building block of a national research platform,” he said.

“Our collaborative efforts driven by research use cases enable us to offer solutions to the research community that were not available before, especially infrastructure that spans across multiple campuses.”

Evidence of the collaborative approach is currently happening in California, with the NSF funded Pacific Research Platform (PRP), connecting multiple state schools together through a distributed research platform. The difference between California and Rutgers’ effort is that they would cross state boundaries as they connect regional schools.

“California has been our role model for what we’re thinking, but what makes it easier for them is that they only have to work with one regional network provider,” Dr. von Oehsen said. “We have to work with several regional network providers between New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, and Rhode Island.”

Dr. von Oehsen envisions the Rutgers and NJEdge partnership as central to the development of a regional platform as they build out distributed solutions within the state and across state lines. This is also an opportunity for the 13 institutional members of the New Jersey Big Data Alliance (NJBDA) as we they are interested in figuring out ways to couple universities together and become part of the cyberinfrastructure ecosystem. The future-state collaboration also means developing ways to collect, share, and store data, as well as data analytics for those parties involved, with Rutgers and NJEdge at the center. As one can imagine, Dr. von Oehsen is very interested in forming partnerships and collaborations and urges everyone to get involved since he and his team cannot do this alone.

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