Can a new approach to computing – cluster computing in the cloud – efficiently expand the academic resources available to liberal arts colleges? NITLE, the National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education, wants to find out, and is looking for faculty members to participate in a pilot project this fall.
The focus of the project is to move existing cluster computing projects into a commercial cloud provider’s infrastructure to test if and how existing commercial infrastructure can meet high-performance computing needs. This project is early, exploratory work and part of a larger “cloud” effort by NITLE, which will cover direct vendor costs, facilitate contact with vendor technical consultants, and report on the project to its institutions.
NITLE has been facilitating inquiries into the creation of a virtual computer lab, or VCL, that could expand access to complex computational tools at liberal arts colleges, where offering such tools in specialized labs can be hindered by challenges of scale and affordability. A VCL is a software-delivery model that “virtualizes” the traditional computer lab, providing online access to advanced software applications used in coursework, research and other academic activities, with those applications running in remote data centers.
According to NITLE: “In recent years, we have seen substantial progress by the commercial sector to provide cluster computing services using an on-demand model. While early commercial offerings tended to be difficult to use, vendors have in the recent past added features that simplify access, setup, and reporting. These advances and the attractiveness of an on-demand financial model for accessing such resources suggest potential for liberal arts colleges in meeting high-performance computing needs.”
For this project, NITLE is seeking faculty members who:
- have a strong need and motivation to explore alternative models of accessing computing resources;
- have a clear and meaningful computational problem to solve;
- will be able to spend time assisting with configuration of virtual machine images in conjunction with technical consultation of the vendor, and to do so over a brief period of time (2-3 weeks) in the fall semester of 2010; and
- are willing to be interviewed afterward and help summarize results.
More information on NITLE’s work in this area and on how to apply to participate in this project is on the NITLE website.
NITLE’s nationwide network includes more than 140 liberal arts institutions. The non-profit organization was established in 2001 through a grant from the Andew W. Mellon Foundation to enhance collaboration among selected liberal arts colleges and to help integrate digital technologies into teaching, learning, scholarship, and information management. In 2006, NITLE joined with three other Mellon-funded initiatives, one of which was the Midwest Instructional Technology Center (MITC) led by the ACM and the Great Lakes Colleges Association (GLCA).