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Investigating User Experiences with Data Abstractions on High Performance Computing Systems

  • Author(s): Paine, Drew;
  • Poon, Sarah;
  • Ramakrishnan, Lavanya
  • et al.
Abstract

Scientific exploration generates expanding volumes of data that commonly require High Performance Computing (HPC) systems to facilitate research. HPC systems are complex ecosystems of hardware and software that frequently are not user friendly. The Usable Data Abstractions (UDA) project set out to build usable software for scientific workflows in HPC environments by undertaking multiple rounds of qualitative user research. Qualitative research investigates how individuals accomplish their work and our interview-based study surfaced a variety of insights about the experiences of working in and with HPC ecosystems. This report examines multiple facets to the experiences of scientists and developers using and supporting HPC systems. We discuss how stakeholders grasp the design and configuration of these systems, the impacts of abstraction layers on their ability to successfully do work, and the varied perceptions of time that shape this work. Examining the adoption of the Cori HPC at NERSC we explore the anticipations and lived experiences of users interacting with this system’s novel storage feature, the Burst Buffer. We present lessons learned from across these insights to illustrate just some of the challenges HPC facilities and their stakeholders need to account for when procuring and supporting these essential scientific resources to ensure their usability and utility to a variety of scientific practices.

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