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A Renaissance for Scientific Computing at SLAC

The last year has seen a sea of change in the perception of scientific computing at the Lab: the rapid success of the Linac Coherent Light Source and burgeoning growth in photon science have demonstrated the central role scientific computing plays in the science output of the laboratory. The associate laboratory directors have been united in their conviction that strong support is needed, and were willing to put people and money on the problem.

A little over a year ago, Persis commissioned a task force, chaired by Randy Melen in the Computing Division, to advise her on how scientific computing should be organized at the lab, and, in this multi-program world we now live in, how it would be paid for. At the time, the Scientific Computing Department was set for full cost recovery and we needed to find a balance between recouping our actual costs and developing a model that would be fiscally attractive to grant recipients and other scientific computing users at SLAC. The ALDs decided to use indirect funds to keep the centralized service attractive.

In parallel to the funding question, the task force took on the question of organization. A collaborative approach was recommended where a new head of scientific computing position would be the hub, coordinating efforts in the science directorates and Computing Division, with Computing continuing to provide centralized support of the hardware. A new advisory body has been created, the Scientific Computing Steering Committee, or SCSC, to advise Persis and the ALDs on lab-wide strategy, advise Computing on scientific computing operations, and try to resolve any significant issues.

As you've read in today's SLAC Today issue, Amber Boehnlein has taken on the head of scientific computing position. Anticipating her arrival, the SCSC began a series of projects to re-energize computing. The main event for this year will be a Jamboree to be held in Building 48 on June 20-21. Its goal is to acquaint the various bastions of computing across the lab with the experience and skills available here. It will help us plot out the roadmap showing where scientific computing is and where it needs to go in the coming years to optimize it lab-wide. We will add a review of the computing efforts at SLAC after the Jamboree to evaluate how they are positioned relative to the roadmap and what should be done to further optimize them.

We are also addressing the computing environment by initiating a monthly series of scientific computing seminars, highlighting exciting work around the lab and the Bay Area. The first of these featured Garth Williams from LCLS on Tuesday and played to a full house.

We in SCSC worked with the Computing Division to commission a forum tool to enhance discussion; this rolls out at the end of the week with scientific computing being the beta tester. We have also compiled a mailing list for those interested in the subject, and expect to advertise these two services next week. Finally, work is already underway to plan SLAC's contribution to the SuperComputing 2011 conference, taking place in Seattle in November.

You can follow the SCSC action online, including the SCSC meeting agendas and minutes.

We are poised for an exciting year in scientific computing: Amber is on board with oodles of experience and energy, and the directorates are committed to supporting a renaissance—starting now.

—Richard Dubois
SLAC Today, May 4, 2011