Visualization at Supercomputing Centers: The Tale of Little Big Iron and the Three Skinny Guys
Supercomputing Centers (SC's) are unique resources that aim to enable scientific knowledge discovery through the use of large computational resources, the Big Iron. Design, acquisition, installation, and management of the Big Iron are activities that are carefully planned and monitored. Since these Big Iron systems produce a tsunami of data, it is natural to co-locate visualization and analysis infrastructure as part of the same facility. This infrastructure consists of hardware (Little Iron) and staff (Skinny Guys). Our collective experience suggests that design, acquisition, installation, and management of the Little Iron and Skinny Guys does not receive the same level of treatment as that of the Big Iron. The main focus of this article is to explore different aspects of planning, designing, fielding, and maintaining the visualization and analysis infrastructure at supercomputing centers. Some of the questions we explore in this article include: "How should the Little Iron be sized to adequately support visualization and analysis of data coming off the Big Iron?" What sort of capabilities does it need to have?" Related questions concern the size of visualization support staff: "How big should a visualization program be (number of persons) and what should the staff do?" and "How much of the visualization should be provided as a support service, and how much should applications scientists be expected to do on their own?"