CISL NETS and Partners Hold First Regional Mentoring and Outreach Workshop

By Marijke Unger
02/05/2015 - 12:00am

With funding from a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant aimed at developing campus infrastructure in data, networking, and innovation, CISL’s networking team held the first in a series of workshops to help smaller universities and colleges learn about – and subsequently implement – high performance networks and high performance computing (HPC) capabilities in the Rocky Mountain region.

The first Rocky Mountain Cyberinfrastructure Mentoring and Outreach Alliance (RMCMOA) Collaboration Workshop was held on January 13, in conjunction with the Westnet CIO and Westnet meetings, which took place at Arizona State University, in Tempe, Arizona.

The grant is part of NSF’s Campus Cyberinfrastructure – Data, Networking, and Innovation (CC*DNI) program, which invests in campus-level data and networking infrastructure and integration activities that improve performance, reliability, and predictability for science applications and distributed research projects.

Participants at the first RMCMOA workshop

Participants at the first Rocky Mountain Cyberinfrastructure Mentoring and Outreach Alliance (RMCMOA) collaborative workshop, held in Tempe, Arizona, on January 13, 2015.

CISL’s Marla Meehl, head of the NET Section, is the Principal Investigator (PI) on the NSF grant, with Patrick Burns from Colorado State University, Steve Corbato, University of Utah, and Thomas Hauser, University of Colorado at Boulder as Co-PIs.  

“We’re involved because we have an interest and an expertise in high performance networking, and because we are committed to advantage our partners in the region through education and outreach,” said Meehl. “This workshop is the first in a series that will help smaller institutions with limited access to this type of expertise find support and ideas for building up their own cyberinfrastructure capabilities. 

The Grant is for $150,000 over two years and funds participant travel to four workshops and minimal staffing travel for the PIs and lead engineers.

The first RMCMOA workshop helped 20 participants identify ways to strategically position high performance networking in their organizations, identifying and writing proposals, building community networking relationships and consortiums, and partnering with researchers on campus. The intent of the workshop was to prepare participants to submit excellent proposals to the NSF and other agencies for funding.

The workshop also provided a valuable opportunity and forum for participants to exchange information on best practices for operating Research and Education networks, hear from experts on key topics, and engage with their peers around the region. One of the goals of the grant is to allocate travel funding across the states and organizations in the region, in order to get the broadest possible reach and representation at the workshops and hopefully in submitting and being awarded proposal funding.

High performance networking and other components of advanced cyberinfrastructure are key technologies vital to a college’s ability to prosper in a rapidly evolving scientific and technical environment. These technologies and components, especially advanced network infrastructure, are swiftly changing, making it challenging to maintain currency, agility, and competitiveness. Smaller institutions are at a severe disadvantage, lacking in capital and personnel who know how to deploy, optimize, maintain, and sustain such technologies. These institutions also often lack the resources or expertise to submit competitive proposals to upgrade and enhance their cyberinfrastructure.

Colorado State University, the Idaho Regional Optical Network, the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, the University of Colorado Boulder, and the University of Utah partnered on this project to proactively train and mentor faculty and staff from smaller institutions in the region to enhance their use of advanced technologies, emphasize their advantages, and highlight their critical role as campus, regional, and national scientific infrastructure.

The January workshop will be followed by three additional regional workshops over the course of two years in an effort to drive adoption and expansion of advanced networking and cyberinfrastructure technologies to smaller colleges and universities in Colorado, New Mexico, Idaho, Utah, and Wyoming. Site visits, consulting services, and network engineering support may also be part of helping smaller institutions learn how to implement these systems and technologies.

“We want to help level what is now a very uneven playing field for smaller institutions with fewer resources,” said Rich Loft, a senior project member. “We can give them knowledge and tools to deploy and support their own infrastructure, and submit joint proposals to help fund these activities. This is a positive for them, for us, and for the region as a whole.”

The next workshop will be held August 11-13, 2015 in conjunction with the Rocky Mountain Advanced Computing Consortium (RMACC) Symposium on High Performance Computing in Boulder, Colorado and will focus on the technical and engineering aspects of building and implementing high performance networks.