PSC to Lead New Generation of Democratized Computing

The XSEDE program may not be a household name, but the program created a revolution in democratizing access to advanced computing for an unprecedented range of researchers in biology, medicine, epidemiology, ecology, social sciences, and the digital humanities whose work affects health, technology, and our understanding of the world.

Begun in 2011 by the National Science Foundation (NSF), XSEDE (Extreme Science and Engineering Discovery Environment) developed a central system for researchers to share computing resources – hardware, data, and the expertise vital for first-time users applying advanced computing to creative new research. Call XSEDE an on-ramp to advanced computing.

Central to the success of XSEDE has been the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center (PSC), a joint research center of Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh. The PSC has now been tapped to help lead the next step in democratizing advanced computing. The NSF has awarded the Center a five-year, $7.5 million award as part of its new Resource Allocations Marketplace and Platform Services Project (RAMPS).

Through RAMPS, PSC will work with a next-generation system of allocating usage time on the Center’s computers – including its flagship Bridges-2 advanced research computer and the experimental Neocortex artificial intelligence system. PSC partners within the NSF’s network of supercomputers include the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, and the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois.

The RAMPS represents an opportunity for even greater democratization of NSF high-performance computing services through expanding and easing access to an ever-widening wider community of investigators. The program re-structures the system of awarding computing time so that the NSF resources will compete for users rather than the other way around. Smaller amounts of computational time such as used by most humanities research will be accessible through simpler, quicker applications with fewer proposal requirements, easing entry for investigators from fields that have not traditionally used advanced computing.

As the requested computing time increases, more proposal details and prior research results will be required. An increased number of proposals will be reviewed and accepted, maximizing the amount of research the system enables and helping ensure participation by investigators from traditionally under-served groups through diversity, equity and inclusion standards managed by a diversity facilitator.

“RAMPS will provide a highly innovative marketplace that will break down the barriers to researchers getting access to needed national research resources,” said Shawn Brown, director of PSC and principal investigator in RAMPS. Brown points out that RAMPS will be reliable and robust from the very outset by using resource allocation technology developed and operated for XSEDE by a team led by PSC. “PSC is extremely honored to be selected to help lead our community through this new cyberinfrastructure program.” The co-principal investigators of RAMPS will be David Hart of NCAR and Laura Herriott of NCSA.

RAMPS is part of a new NSF program – Advanced Cyberinfrastructure Coordination Ecosystem Services and Support (ACCESS). PSC is partner with six other institutions on another ACCESS grant, the COre National Ecosystem for CyberinfrasTructure (CONECT) project. The $20-million, five-year award will deliver innovative integrations across the NSF-funded cyberinfrastructure ecosystem in operations, data, networking, and cybersecurity. CONECT will employ agile mechanisms to integrate rapidly diversifying non-traditional resources by building on the successes of its predecessors to create a more dynamic, inclusive, reliable, and secure ecosystem.

“Being recognized in this way by the NSF is not something new for the university,” says Rob A. Rutenbar, Pitt senior vice chancellor for research. “As co-founder and supporter of PSC, Pitt has long been a key part of the national infrastructure for academic supercomputing. PSC has been at the center of the XSEDE program since 2011, and this is an amazing testament to the longevity, leadership, and strength of the PSC team that they won one of the competitions to rebuild and reboot his nationally vital infrastructure.”