Strengthening the computing foundation of Fermilab

Panagiotis Spentzouris

Panagiotis Spentzouris, head of the Scientific Computing Division, wrote this column.

Scientific computing, through the process of numerical modeling and simulation, complements theory and experiment as a way to obtain scientific knowledge. But computing is more than the third leg of the discovery stool. Scientific computing also supports and enables the other two through data collection, reconstruction and analytics. It has always been an essential part of the Fermilab physics program.

Every time I see a picture of an event from the Large Hadron Collider’s CMS experiment or, in more recent times, a NOvA event, I think of our Scientific Computing Division’s contributions. NOvA hit the ground running, collecting data with an SCD-designed and -commissioned data acquisition system, processing data with SCD-developed software, and running on computing resources supported by SCD workflow management services and operations. SCD also develops and supports tools and applications for detector and accelerator simulation and physics generation.

All in all, SCD has been exceedingly successful in delivering world-class computing services, operations and software engineering support to Fermilab-based experiments, CMS and the high-energy physics community at large, working closely with our users. However, as Fermilab moves forward with the P5 plan, we face many scientific computing challenges.

First, we must provide the same high level of support to various experiments with different timelines and priorities. In addition, as computing architectures evolve, we must change the paradigms for how we construct our algorithms, write our codes and organize our analysis flows. Also, while new technologies, such as more accessible cloud computing, provide attractive possibilities for deploying computing resources, they require us to develop new services for on-demand reliable resource allocation.

In order to meet these challenges and continue to serve the needs of our user community, we have reorganized SCD and aligned our activities across three major areas. One is development, integration and research, in which we create the products that run on our facilities. The second is facilities, where we operate the services that run these products. The third is science operations and workflows, through which we tailor applications of the facility services to our experiments and projects and assist with operations.

Of course, no organization can be successful without its people. In the nearly three months since I became division head, my interactions with all parts of SCD have reinforced this belief. SCD members have unique and diverse skills in a variety of professions, including scientists, engineers, software architects and developers, and experts in using and operating high-performance and high-throughput computing systems.

It is very exciting to be at Fermilab now. The Fermilab neutrino program is on its way with more experiments to come online; CMS is about to restart taking data; the muon program will start soon; and our accelerator complex upgrades are well under way. We in SCD are looking forward to working with the rest of the laboratory to make this program a great success. Happy Thanksgiving!