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K-State Today

September 27, 2019

NSF awards team $1.4M to improve research computing in Midwest

Submitted by Daniel Andresen

Beocat hard drives.

Many colleges and universities across the Midwest need comprehensive assistance with building or improving their cyberinfrastructure, but may not know exactly what they need or where to start.

A team of seven experts from universities across the region — including K-State — recently received $1.4 million from the National Science Foundation to both meet this need and provide workforce development to fill an emerging need in high-performance research computing.

Called the CyberTeam, it is made up of experts from several states who have a wealth of knowledge in the aspects that go into research computing, including hardware, software, computing architecture, cybersecurity and more.

Daniel Andresen, professor of computer science and director of K-State's high performance computing effort Beocat, is co-PI on the team. He's joined on the CyberTeam by Tim Middelkoop, principal investigator, University of Missouri; James Deaton, Great Plains Network; Douglas M. Jennewein, University of South Dakota; David Swanson, University of Nebraska-Lincoln; Kevin Brandt, South Dakota State University; and George R. Louthan IV, University of Oklahoma. 

"The drive behind it is there's a critical need for building cyberinfrastructure across the nation and the region, as well," Middelkoop said. "There are a lot of small colleges that are underresourced and have a lot of personnel turnover."

Many of these universities would benefit from greater high-performance computing power to aid research across campus and to serve any additional high-performance computing power needs they may have. This program would pair a mentor from the CyberTeam with a mentee at a college or university partner. They would work together to determine the institution's needs and walk through the process together from conception to implementation.

"Say they need storage, we will go in and work with the researcher to figure out the types of storage, their needs, how they'll interact with it, their budget, security and design parameters, as well as the hardware itself," Middelkoop said. "We'll work with the vendors to come up with a technical solution, physically install it, go through the installation and build process with them together and provide ongoing support."

While helping institutions meet their computing needs, the CyberTeam will also work with students to help train them on how to meet the needs of the nascent field of research computing. With so much scientific discovery requiring high-performance computing resources to do modeling, crunch data, store results and more, the field needs well-trained personnel who can help bridge the gap between researchers and their computing needs. It requires someone who can combine research skills and IT support, among other attributes.

"Research computing is not entirely on the faculty or staff side," Middelkoop said. "Research computing is the middle where you're helping facilitate research, co-discovering, working with researchers and learning with them what are the best practice approaches.

"This entirely new career path is partly research, partly academic, partly support. It's our job as cyberinfrastructure professionals to facilitate research, to serve the researchers, but we also work with them in a team manner."

Beocat is the central computing resource for multiple departments across campus, and is available to any academic researcher in Kansas and their partners under the statewide KanShare memorandum of understanding. Use of Beocat is free for professors and students in the state of Kansas. In addition to many users across the K-State campus, Beocat also is a resource for users from Wichita State University, Washburn University, Bethany College, Pittsburg State University, the University of Kansas and other institutions.

Beocat is supported by the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, Department of Energy, Office of Research and Sponsored Programs and Information Technology Services. For more information on its use or a tour, contact Andresen at dan@k-state.edu or 785-532-7914.

Read more information about the grant. Content used with permission.