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Home > iSGTW 2 September 2009 > Feature - New batch of science gateways hit the spot

Feature - New batch of science gateways hit the spot

A visualization of a gauge configuration generated at NERSC which is now freely available via Gauge Connection, a NERSC science gateway that serves as an experimental gateway for the lattice quantum chromodynamics community. Image courtesy of NERSC.

Accessing high performance computing resources via the web can be as easy as everyday tasks such as paying bills, shopping and chatting with friends, thanks to a new Science Gateways project. But it wasn’t always that way.

The traditional method of accessing computing center resources is to log in, write and submit a mini-computer program called a batch script, and then wait for the results. Science gateways allow researchers to accomplish the same tasks using a web-based graphical user interface (if it can use a mouse, it’s a graphical interface). This means that scientists can dive right into the science without worrying about learning how to write a batch script.

“The Science Gateways project is taking NERSC in a direction that allows people to access the center’s huge compute and data resources in ways that are more familiar to them – through common web interfaces,” said David Skinner, head of the Science Gateways project at the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC). “If we can provide useful computing resources and data to scientists in a way that they can simply click a button and get results right away, that opens up a whole new kind of utility.”

TeraGrid also has a Science Gateways program that provides science groups with the tools they need to incorporate high performance computing, visualization and data resources into their existing web portals, said Nancy Wilkins-Diehr, who heads the TeraGrid program.

The Science Gateways program at NERSC, which is affiliated with Open Science Grid, works differently. NERSC programmers work directly with each group to design their new gateway according to group-specific requirements, said Shreyas Cholia of NERSC. The gateways are housed at NERSC and are thus closely coupled with the center’s resources.

Groups can receive help with constructing databases, building web browser interfaces, developing specific tools, and deploying their gateway. They can make their gateway public, so that anyone can access and download their data, or private and restricted to members of their research group.

“Science gateways are an ideal way for a small team to make their algorithms, data, or software available to a larger community of users,” Skinner said. “There are also large teams of researchers that use science gateways as a means to keep the developers and users organized and on the same page.”

Although grid portals and gateways have been around for a long time, they have been somewhat difficult for people without computer programming expertise to use, Skinner said.

“Our science gateways are a new breed of gateway because they are more similar to what people are used to dealing with every day in the outside world,” Skinner said. “We want to change people’s minds about scientific computing and show them that it can be easy to access resources.”

Amelia Williamson, iSGTW

A screen capture of the science gateway for Deep Sky, an astronomical image database covering nearly the entire northern sky.

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