As the computing and data needs of the MIT research community continue to grow – both in quantity and complexity – the Institute is launching a new effort to ensure that researchers have access to advanced computing resources and the data management services they need to do their best.

At the heart of this effort is the creation of the new Office of Research Computing and Data (ORCD), to be led by Professor Peter Fisher, who will step down as Head of the Department of Physics to become the first Director of the office. The office, which officially opens in September, will build on and replace the MIT Research Computing Project, an initiative supported by the Office of the Vice President for Research, which has helped improve computing resources at the available to MIT researchers.

“Nearly every field of science uses research computing to carry out our mission at MIT – and computing needs vary between different research groups. In my world, high-energy physics experiments require large amounts of storage and many identical general-purpose processors, while astrophysical theorists simulating the formation of galaxy clusters need relatively little storage, but many processors with high-speed connections between them,” says Fisher, physics professor Thomas A. Frank (1977), who will assume the role of director of the ORCD on September 1.

“I envision ORCD as being, at a minimum, a centralized system with an array of different capabilities to allow our researchers at MIT to get their projects off the ground and understand the computing resources needed to run them,” Fisher adds.

The Office of Research Computing and Data will provide services spanning hardware, software, and cloud solutions, including data storage and retrieval, and will offer consulting, training, documentation, and data curation to the community research from MIT. He will also work to develop innovative solutions that address emerging or highly specialized needs, and he will advance strategic collaborations with industry.

The outstanding performance of MIT’s endowment last year provided a unique opportunity for MIT to distribute endowment funds to accelerate progress on a range of Institute priorities in fiscal year 2023, beginning on 1 July 2022. Based on community feedback and visiting committee feedback, MIT leadership has identified research computing as one of these priorities, enabling the expanded effort the Institute began today today. The future operation of ORCD will incorporate a cost recovery model.

In her new role, Fisher will report to Maria Zuber, MIT’s vice president for research, and coordinate closely with MIT Information Systems and Technology (IS&T), MIT Libraries, and the deans of the five schools and the MIT Schwarzman College of Computing, including others. He will also work closely with Provost Cindy Barnhart.

“I’m thrilled that Peter has agreed to take on this important role,” says Zuber. “Under his leadership, I am confident that we will be able to build on the significant advances of recent years to provide MIT researchers with the best infrastructure, services, and expertise so they can maximize their research performance.”

MIT’s research computing capabilities have grown significantly in recent years. Ten years ago, the Institute partnered with a number of other Massachusetts universities to establish the Massachusetts Green High-Performance Computing Center (MGHPCC) in Holyoke to provide high-performance, low-performance computing power carbon emissions needed to conduct cutting-edge research while reducing its environmental impact. However, MIT’s capacity at MGHPCC is now almost fully utilized and expansion is underway.

The need for more advanced computing capacity is not the only problem to be solved. Over the past decade, there have been tremendous advances in cloud computing, which is increasingly being used in research computing, requiring the Institute to review its operation with cloud service providers and then allocate cloud resources to departments, labs and centers. . And MIT’s longstanding model for research computing — which has been mostly decentralized — can lead to inefficiencies and inequities between departments, even though it offers flexibility.

For several years, the Institute has carefully evaluated how to solve these problems, in particular within the framework of the creation of the MIT Schwarzman College of Computing. In August 2019, a university IT infrastructure task force found a “campus-wide preference for an overarching IT infrastructure organizational model that transcends a college or school and most logically reports to senior management. “. The task force report also addressed the need for a better balance between centralized and decentralized research computing resources.

“Computing infrastructure and support needs vary widely across disciplines,” says Daniel Huttenlocher, Dean of MIT Schwarzman College of Computing and Henry Ellis Warren Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. “With the new Office of Research Computing and Data, the Institute is seizing the opportunity to transform its approach to supporting research computing and data, including not only hardware and cloud computing, but also expertise . This decision is a critical step in supporting MIT’s research and scholarship.

Over time, ORCD (pronounced “orchid”) aims to recruit a team of professionals, including data scientists and engineers and system and hardware administrators, who will enhance, support, and maintain MIT’s research computing infrastructure. and ensure that all researchers on campus have access to a minimum level of advanced computing and data management.

The new research computing and data effort is part of a larger push to modernize MIT’s information technology infrastructure and systems. “We are at an inflection point, where we have a significant opportunity to invest in critical needs, replace or upgrade aging systems, and fully meet the changing needs of our faculty, our students and our staff,” said Mark Silis, vice president of MIT. for information systems and technology. “We are delighted to have a new partner in the Office of Research Computing and Data as we begin this important work.”