CERN and Argonne use science clouds for computing

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Their phrase, not mine…here, I’ll prove it. From the release

A novel system is enabling high energy physicists at CERN in Switzerland, to make production runs that integrate their existing pool of distributed computers with dynamic resources in “science clouds.” …The integration was achieved by leveraging two mechanisms: the Nimbus Context Broker, developed by computer scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory and the University of Chicago, and a portable software environment developed at CERN.

Researchers working on A Large Ion Collider Experiment (ALICE) needed additional resources to complement their fixed deployment, so the research wanted to answer the question of how dynamically provisioned resources could be integrated into that pool to support surge requirements without requiring users to leave their existing (and familiar) compute environment.

The CernVM technology was originally started with the intent of supplying portable development environments that scientists could run on their laptops and desktops. A variety of virtual image formats are now supported, including the Xen images used by the Amazon EC2 as well as Science Clouds. The challenge for Harutyunyan was to find a way to deploy these images so that they would dynamically and securely register with the AliEn scheduler and thus join the ALICE resource pool.

Here the Nimbus Context Broker came into play.  The broker allows a user to securely provide context-specific information to a virtual machine deployed on remote resources. It places minimal compatibility requirements on the cloud provider and can orchestrate information exchange across many providers.
“Commercial cloud providers such as EC2 allow users to deploy groups of unconnected virtual machines, whereas scientists typically need a ready-to-use cluster whose nodes share a common configuration and security context. The Nimbus Context Broker bridges that gap,” said Kate Keahey, a computer scientist at Argonne and head of the Nimbus project.

This is interesting. What I like about it is that it combines the two models of commercial and scientific computing for the user’s benefit without requiring the user to leave the environment with which she is already familiar.

The new system dynamically deploys a virtual machine on the Nimbus cloud at the University of Chicago, which then joins the ALICE computer pool so that jobs can be scheduled on it.

…According to Keahey, one of the most exciting achievements of the project was the fact that the work was accomplished by integrating cloud computing into the existing mechanisms. “We didn’t need to change the users’ perception of the system,” Keahey said.


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