School of GeoSciences

Support in research computing

This page seeks to make explicit the ways in which the School offers support for researchers' computing.

Outline

In the School we want researchers to be expert in research, gaining benefit from effective and appropriate use of  computing  technologies but not spending time and energy climbing too many learning curves in those technologies, especially when those curves have been climbed by others already. 

To try and address issues that are common across research fields:

  • Some training can be provided in widely used skills – This may take the form of a workshop in Python, or in the use of Eddie.  There is some capacity to respond as demand arises. Many courses are also offered by the University.These can vary from basic Desktop productivity to HPC programming.
  • How-to pages should be discover-able on research groups'  wikis or web sites. (These pages could be built by both support folk and researchers who learn things that can be useful to others.... see Geoinformatics wiki, for example)
  • Some ad hoc consultancy and 1:1 support can be provided to researchers.  This may include help with software engineering (installing, coding...)

This support is provided by the School through allocating some available time from 2 people.  This cannot always provide the level of support we would all desire.  Priority is given to projects that have budgeted for such support effort. 

At any time  a negotiable amount of Mike Mineter's and Magnus Hagdorn's time is not costed in research projects.  However, projects that buy an amount of a persons time will often want to use that time in concentrated periods over the duration of a project, so there is constant adjustment that needs to be factored in order to accommodate multiple requests on a person’s time. A degree of advanced planning and compromise by everyone involved will ensure that requests can be accommodated.

It is appropriate that projects budget for this effort: it is a small percentage of project costs and will go towards offsetting the cost of such support.  Depending on the type of request, the time required vs the time available and the number of requests, it may be possible to get additional support from the Information Services Group of the University.  Multiple costed requests would also support a business case for additional resource in this area, which could undertake strategic objectives (in training or research software service development like GeosMeta) when not active for specific groups

Setting expectations

Currently projects that do not have budgeted support can expect:

  • best efforts support subject to whatever time is available
    • This will often mean that guidance is given, rather than tasks being done for them.
  • help as a new group establishes its data/compute management policies.  It should be noted that researchers have the need to make data (and increasingly, also code) available to the wider community for reuse.  This is NOT a task that can be delegated; it is one that must influence all research activity.  The Research Software/Computing support team can however inform such policies, and so help to propagate best practice.
  • consultancy on specific key obstacles to progress.

Experience to date is that:

  • 5% of a person will provide for more hands-on help in project start-up; ongoing routine support in compute/data management and some ad-hoc quick tasks. 
  • Depending on the level of software engineering and development entailed projects with more intensive needs will typically seek 10-50% of a person.

Requesting support

Those writing  grants that might benefit from such support are asked to discuss this with the  IT support manager, before the proposal is finalised, a) to ensure the effort is at a realistic level, and b) to ensure there is scope for fulfilling the work.

Those seeking  specific technical help are asked to email it.geos@ed.ac.uk making clear that research computing support is wanted.