CHINA'S LATEST SUPERCOMPUTER VICTORY

China's Milky Way 2 supercomputer was recently declared the fastest supercomputer in the world by industry scorekeeper Top500, the latest move in the increasingly international race for high performance computing supremacy. Late last month, CI Senior Fellow Rick Stevens appeared on Science Friday, alongside Top 500 editor Horst Simon, to talk about why that competition matters, and what the global push for faster computation will do for medicine, engineering and other sciences.

"These top supercomputers are like time machines," Stevens said. "They give us access to a capability that won't be broadly available for five to ten years. So whoever has the time machine is able to do experiments, able to see into the future deeper and more clearly than those that don't have such machines."

WE CAME, WE SAW, WE CERNED

We were thrilled to spend Friday morning with the folks at TEDxCERN via webcast, enjoying fascinating talks by CI director Ian Foster and several other amazing scientists and educators. Foster's talk focused on "The Discovery Cloud," the idea that many complex and time-consuming research tasks can be moved to cloud-based tools, freeing up scientists to accelerate the pace of discovery. We'll post the video when it's up, but for now, enjoy this great animation produced for the conference by TED-Ed explaining grid computing, cloud computing and big data.

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People who work in laboratories take a lot of things for granted. When they come into work in the morning, they expect the equipment to have power, the sink to produce hot and cold water, and the internet and e-mail to be functional. Because these routine services are taken care of "behind the scenes" by facilities and IT staff, scientists can get started right away on their research.

But increasingly, scientists are hitting a new speed bump in their day-to-day activities: the storage, movement and analysis of data. As datasets grow far beyond what can easily be handled on a single desktop computer and long-distance collaborations become increasingly common, frustrated researchers find themselves spending more and more time and money on data management. To get the march of science back up to top speed, new services must be provided that make handling data as simple as switching on the lights.

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"Software as a Service," or SaaS, is a concept that has revolutionized the way people use their computers. Every time you check your e-mail on Gmail, stream a movie over Netflix or customize a radio station on Pandora, you're accessing an SaaS through a browser that saves you the trouble of installing programs and storing data locally on your own computer. In an essay written for O'Reilly Radar, Renee DiResta argues for swapping out the first S in SaaS for "science," creating online tools for scientists to outsource time-intensive and expensive processes such as specialized experiments and data sharing, storage and analysis.

 

Perhaps we can facilitate scientific progress by streamlining the process. Science as a service (SciAAS?) will enable researchers to save time and money without compromising quality. Making specialized resources and institutional expertise available for hire gives researchers more flexibility. Core facilities that own equipment can rent it out during down time, helping to reduce their own costs. The promise of science as a service is a future in which research is more efficient, creative, and collaborative.