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E-C-S-Yes: XSEDE’s Extended Collaborative Support Services

E-C-S-Yes: XSEDE's Extended Collaborative Support Services

XSEDE's Extended Collaborative Support Services (ECSS) team provides individual and community guidance for users to improve, enhance, execute, and troubleshoot their projects.


By Katherine Kendig

How do cancer researchers learn to use the command line? Where can an art historian get help with machine learning? What happens when astronomers migrate their work to supercomputers, but the code still isn't running fast enough? The Extreme Science and Engineering Discovery Environment (XSEDE) offers users access to a number of compute, storage, and cloud-based resources housed at institutions across the country. But while XSEDE users are undertaking exciting work in fields from physics to film studies, learning their way around the high-performance computing environments XSEDE offers isn't always a walk in the park. That's why XSEDE has assembled a robust, flexible community of experts to help bridge the gap that sometimes occurs between what researchers want to do and their current capabilities. XSEDE's Extended Collaborative Support Services (ECSS) team provides individual and community guidance for users to improve, enhance, execute, and troubleshoot their projects. Still, not all users -- and potential users -- are aware of how collaboration with ECSS could benefit their work. Read on to learn more about some of the most valuable ECSS strengths and offerings… and always feel free to reach out to discuss how working with ECSS might be valuable to you!

Wide-Ranging Expertise, Wide-Ranging Experts

ECSS consultants possess a variety of talents: From traditional HPC, workflows, and performance analysis to data analytics, visualization, AI, and machine learning, consultants offer a broad base of understanding to the XSEDE community. But even if a user can't find the help they seek among ECSS's many current consultants, there's no reason to give up: "There's a wide set of capabilities that we have in ECSS at any given time," says the National Center for Supercomputing Applications' Jay Alameda, who manages the Extended Support for Training, Outreach, and Education (ESTEO) group within ECSS. "But we also have the flexibility to bring in other people [from XSEDE's member centers] who might be useful to a particular project." In other words, if users need a particular kind of expertise, XSEDE will make sure to find it.

For most users, though, finding a good fit shouldn't be a problem. Notably, ECSS is home to multiple distinct support groups that cater to different needs: the Extended Support for Research Teams (ESRT), Extended Support for Community Codes (ESCC), and Extended Support for Science Gateways (ESSGW) groups offer solutions relating to code, workflows, and interfaces; the Novel & Innovative Projects (NIP) group works to find the right support for research not traditionally found in HPC; and ESTEO fosters connections and learning between ECSS, users, and the public. In addition, Alan Craig, Digital Humanities Specialist for XSEDE and member of the NIP group, says ECSS consultants are constantly developing their knowledge: "People stretch to learn new things to help with projects they may not have previously known much about," he says. Matching users with the right support is often about seeing a project's needs in the right light: Rather than expertise in the subject matter at hand, it's often familiarity with a particular technique that makes a consultant a good choice for a project. "A scholar analyzing text or images… might not specifically need an art expert or a text analytics specialist, but might be better served by someone who knows the techniques of machine learning."

Diverse Users, Diverse Support

What does an XSEDE user look like? XSEDE wants the answers to that question to be as numerous and varied as the populations XSEDE hopes to serve, which means seeking and supporting diversity in both the research and the researchers using XSEDE. ESTEO regularly provides outreach and training to groups that don't frequently use HPC, like women, underrepresented minorities, and students from colleges with smaller research programs. However, cultivating an inclusive pool of users also requires that ECSS offer flexible, tailored support. That entails working with minority-serving institutions to design workshops around existing participant projects, delivering HPC training in Spanish at Spanish-speaking institutions, and prioritizing diversity among those offering training and mentoring. "It changes the whole environment" when XSEDE speakers reflect multiple backgrounds, says Alameda. Consultant Marcela Madrid of the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center (PSC) illustrates the range of impact XSEDE hopes ECSS can have: in addition to levying her knowledge of HPC and biological systems as a project consultant, Madrid has also run new user training seminars, taught bioinformatics courses at minority-serving institutions, and worked with a North Carolina high school to enable its students to run projects on PSC's Bridges supercomputer.

User-Focused, User-Friendly

ECSS consultants tend to say that working with XSEDE feels like a "natural fit," and XSEDE wants its users to feel that same sense of rightness when working with ECSS. "Having been a computational scientist first helps me understand the needs of the computational scientist," says ECSS consultant Laura Carrington of the San Diego Supercomputing Center. "They really just want their science done."

While some users may worry that bringing in ECSS means letting someone else take the lead on their project, there's a reason the services are called collaborative support. Alameda notes that while ECSS "can give you a boost or help you gain insight from your model," they won't take the reins: "The PIs and research team own the project." Of course, all users -- and all projects -- are different. "Sometimes we stay in touch, and the collaboration continues after the ECSS partnership ends," notes consultant Lars Koesterke of the Texas Advanced Computer Center. Ultimately, users drive the conversation around what kind of support they need to help their projects grow, thrive... and "XSEDE" expectations.

Want more specifics? See our ECSS profiles on Facebook to meet eight great consultants, or reach out to to talk to someone about how ECSS can help you.