How you can access services on the SAGrid

08 March 2010

SAGrid servicesMonday Paper recently reported on the success of the SAGrid core services team at UCT, who enabled the research activities of two very large and renowned projects. The article may have prompted readers to ask: How can my research project/experiment/collaboration obtain access to the grid?

In this article, we discuss how to access the computing facilities and services offered by SAGrid. These are encapsulated in some concepts that apply to the management of research computing infrastructure. These are: global resource-sharing through a federation; efficient use of resources through this sharing; security and trust among resource providers; the death of distance; and the use of open standards.

Resource-sharing provides researchers with a single point of access to a wide range of services. The need for security in such shared environments brings us to the concept of Virtual Organisations, or VOs. VOs are dynamic groups of people who are working on a common or mutually-dependent problem, in a self-formed collaboration. Some examples of VOs are the Large Hadron Collider experiments (ALICE, ATLAS, etc); the communities of biomedical researchers who are searching for new drug designs (BIOMED); global climate change research (Climate-G); or even multi-disciplinary groups, such as grid training (GILDA).

So far, in South Africa, we have formed the "SAGrid" VO, a catch-all grouping that all bona-fide researchers at academic institutions may join, and to which they may contribute resources.

The first step in using the grid is to obtain a personal certificate, considered to be your "passport" to the grid, from the accredited Certificate Authority (CA). Andrew Lewis and Timothy Carr at ICTS can validate your identity in order for you to request your passport. Your passport allows you to join the VO of your choice and gain specific access to the software and hardware resources of that particular VO. A number of international collaborations already exist to which UCT researchers can gain access via portals in South Africa, e.g. the UCT physicists who work on the ALICE experiment at CERN.

Once you have access it is important to know how to begin using the resources. To this end, dedicated training sessions are regularly organised by the SAGrid operations team and the Grid INFN Laboratory for Dissemination Activities (GILDA).

UCT is also part of an FP-7-funded exchange programme for knowledge transfer called EPIKH - Exchange Programme for advanced e-Infrastructures Know-How. Together with 'face-to-face' learning in a classroom environment, GILDA and SAGrid also provide self-paced online material, via the SAGrid and GILDA wikis and support portals.

Finally, on UCT's campus (as at most sites on SAGrid) there are trained site administrators on hand to answer questions about any operational issues. In the near future, a direct user and application support team will be developed at each site to act as first-line contact for grid users, and will be supported by a national team of experts in a Regional Operations Centre (ROC).

To use the grid at UCT, please contact Andrew Lewis or Timothy Carr - your local support team at ICTS. They are on hand to collate the technical requests of user communities on campus and, in collaboration with GILDA, to develop a timeline for training events on campus. For more information about SAGrid at UCT, please go to the ICTS website, and read the articles under the Scientific Computing menu.

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