Open OnDemand Makes Using Supercomputers Super Simple


If you’ve ever felt intimidation at the idea of working with supercomputers, you’re not alone. Many researchers across disciplines aren’t familiar with supercomputers. That’s precisely why it’s important to make sure ACCESS portals are easy to use by anyone and Open OnDemand is the tool that makes that happen.  

What is Open OnDemand?

Open OnDemand is an open-source portal that enables web-based access to HPC services. This powerful application was developed by the Ohio Supercomputer Center (OSC), an ACCESS resource provider, and funded by the National Science Foundation. You can even access Open OnDemand on your mobile phone or tablet. 

Open OnDemand advances democratization goals of NSF’s advanced cyberinfrastructure ecosystem. It removes barriers experienced by some researchers trying to use high-performance computational and data resources within their complex workflows from essentially anywhere.

Tom Gulbransen, NSF’s Program Officer for the ACCESS program.

While Open OnDemand isn’t currently available for all the resource providers in the ACCESS portfolio, several of the larger supercomputing centers already employ it. Bridges2 at the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center (PSC), Expanse at the San Diego Supercomputing Center (SDSC), Anvil at Purdue’s Rosen Center for Advanced Computing (RCAC) and Delta at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) are all set up with Open OnDemand. The hope is that eventually most of the ACCESS supercomputing resources will utilize Open OnDemand, homogenizing researchers’ experience with the resources, no matter where they’re using them.

Open OnDemand has been deployed in more than 400 locations. You can visit their websites to learn more about the institutions already running Open OnDemand.

Open OnDemand is browser-based, which means you don’t need to install a client to use it. Its graphical user interface (GUI) is created to be simple enough for any level of expertise, and it’s configurable such that resource providers can create specialized applications for unique needs. This kind of scalability comes at no cost. Since Open OnDemand is open source, it’s free to use by anyone. Open OnDemand is also already widely adopted, with instances deployed on all continents save Antarctica, with more than 400 active installations. 

The scalability of Open OnDemand makes it easy to integrate popular applications for data visualization, simulations and modeling. Some popular applications already deployed in Open OnDemand instances include MATLAB, Jupyter, R Studio and Visual Studio Code. Open OnDemand is a highly flexible tool that will only get better as more resources utilize it and adapt the open-source code to their needs.

Finally, the simplicity of the portal makes it easy for users of all skill levels to use. Alan Chalker, director of strategic programs at the OSC, is proud of how widely Open OnDemand has been adopted. It’s not just researchers all over the world using it userbase also has a striking diversity of disciplines and expertise. 

As a direct result of Open OnDemand, the Ohio Supercomputer Center now provides services to clients from over 40 different science domains, including diverse fields such as horticulture and crop science, political science, anthropology, and welding engineering.

Alan Chalker, director of strategic programs, OSC

How does Open OnDemand fit into the ACCESS infrastructure?

ACCESS is a large organization that facilitates research; all the parts of the organization are important for it to function. Operations, Allocations, Metrics and Support work in tandem to help researchers meet their goals. Some functions of these teams are less visible than others but are no less important. Researchers who utilize ACCESS have different needs and may only interact with certain parts to varying degrees. All researchers start with Allocations, but expert users may not use much of the services Support provides. Some may dive deeply into Metrics to make their research more efficient. Many researchers will never interact with the Operations team, but Operations is still there, ensuring everything runs smoothly. Every single researcher, however, needs to interface with their allocated resources, which makes the ease of that  interface important, no matter the scope of the project or the expertise of the researcher.

This is where Open OnDemand comes in. As its adoption widens among ACCESS resource providers, Open OnDemand will streamline the research process, allowing for a seamless transition from resource to resource. This doesn’t end at just ACCESS resources either.

Many researchers use a combination of resources for their projects. They may use ACCESS for one aspect and then turn to Amazon Web Services (AWS) for something else. Since AWS uses its own instance of Open OnDemand, researchers won’t notice a difference in portals when switching between resources. The portal remains the same in all cases. The more Open OnDemand is adopted, the easier it becomes for researchers to move not just between resources but between projects. If they’ve used Open OnDemand once, they’ll be able to launch into their next project right much quicker, even if the resource they’re using is completely different than the one they used in their first project. When OSC compared the times from account creation to the first login, the differences were astounding. Using OnDemand versus traditional access, researchers took 76 fewer hours to get from account creation to first login. They took 20 fewer hours from their first login to their first job.

In the office, at home or even in transit. Open OnDemand is there for you wherever you are.

Finally, due to the flexibility of Open OnDemand’s browser-based interface, researchers can access their work literally anywhere an internet connection is available. Researchers can check data on a laptop while waiting for a flight at the airport or even on their phone while sitting at a pub watching a football match. It’s that simple and easy to use. It’s so simple that several users credited it with keeping their projects on track at the start of the pandemic in 2020.

“Wichita State University purchased a cluster before the pandemic and installed OnDemand just as COVID was shutting down campuses,” said Terrance Figy, professor at Whichita State University. “I don’t think you all realize how critical OnDemand was; we believe it helped us retain students, both undergraduate and graduates.”

Facilitating research for everyone is the cornerstone of ACCESS. Open OnDemand is another ACCESS tool to help you reach your research goals.

Project Details

Institution: Ohio Supercomputer Center (OSC)
Funding Agency: NSF
Grant Number: Grant nos. 1534949, 1835725, and 2138286

Open OnDemand is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under grant numbers 1534949, 1835725, and 2138286 and under active development by a team from the Ohio Supercomputer Center, U. of Buffalo CCR, and Virginia Tech.

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