North Dakota State University deployed Open OnDemand, improving HPC features, access and education
COLUMBUS, Ohio (Oct 5, 2023) — The Center for Computationally Assisted Science and Technology (CCAST) at the North Dakota State University (NDSU) provides high performance computing (HPC) resources to NDSU and various other institutions within North Dakota. With more than 12,000 CPU cores and 70 GPUs, CCAST is the largest academic supercomputing facility in the state of North Dakota.
Managing and ensuring access for users is a top priority for CCAST. In 2019, when the global COVID-19 pandemic started to disrupt in-person activities, Research Facilitator Nick Dusek introduced Open OnDemand, a remote HPC platform developed by the Ohio Supercomputer Center (OSC), to the CCAST community.
“When we all got sent home in March 2020, everything was in flux and the tolerance for failure was high,” Dusek said. “I deployed Open OnDemand from home during COVID and went straight into production. It turned out people really liked it. I don't think we could ever go back.”
Open OnDemand has since become CCAST’s front door for HPC access. Providing a unifying framework while remaining highly customizable, Open OnDemand effectively lowers barriers to access, enhances educational opportunities and allows CCAST to increase the features it offers, Dusek said.
Previously, CCAST had no ability to provide graphical user interfaces to its clients, but Open OnDemand has allowed Dusek and his team to implement various popular and requested interactive apps, such as RStudio and Jupyter Notebook, into the environment with minimal effort. This change has not only impacted researchers but has allowed educators to more easily integrate supercomputing into the classroom, Dusek said.
Open OnDemand has also helped CCAST simplify some of the initial challenges that new users face when attempting to access HPC resources.
“In the past, after creating an account new users would typically have to email us asking for help,” Dusek said. “Since implementing Open OnDemand I have started to run into people on campus who I have never had to interact with who have been using our resources. If I have not had to interact with them, that means their onboarding went smoothly.”
In addition to providing HPC for research, CCAST focuses heavily on training and education. Previously, teaching large groups of HPC users proved challenging because students use a wide range of operating systems, each with their own methods for HPC. Because Open OnDemand is accessible through a web browser, it has helped eliminate these differences, creating a more unified learning process, Dusek said.
Supporting research will continue to be a major component of CCAST’s work in the upcoming years, as NDSU increases its research activity and more academics discover a need to incorporate HPC into their research. In 2021 NDSU was designated an R1 research institution, the highest classification by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education.
“The biggest group of new HPC users we have is coming from the life sciences, such as genomics, bioinformatics, plant and animal sciences, agriculture, etc.,” Dusek said. “While researchers in some fields may not see an immediate need for HPC within their current research program, once they learn how to use it, they might start to think in different ways about the size and scope of problems they can tackle now that they have more resources. I think my work is important because it's helping those people meet the overwhelming need to integrate computing into their research.”