In the School of Computer Science (SCS), assignments students produce are now rarely simple in design, where a few source code files can be submitted to the instructor.  These assignments can include components that involve complex data analysis, kernel compilations, and even modifications of services such as apache.  Often the modifications to the development environment are as important as any code that may be produced.

Faculty came to the Computing Support Unit in SCS in need of a solution that would enable students to easily work on these types of assignments and easily submit them for grading.

“To submit assignments in Computer Science, students often need to transfer enormous files which can prove to be a logistical nightmare” said Andrew Pullin, Sr. Software Designer in SCS.

Andrew and his team wanted to provide a solution that would not only support this challenging teaching and learning environment, but also support faculty in their research by providing fast and convenient computing and storage resources.

So they beta tested OpenStack –  a cloud management solution used to manage virtual computing and storage resources.  Though education and training are not atypical uses for OpenStack, the SCS staff quickly found it could be modified to meet their needs.

“One of the benefits of the solution is how easy it is to set up a course on the system.  One morning an instructor confirmed he would like to try OpenStack. Within 30 minutes the project was set up.  The next day 191 students were using it for an assignment.   At one point there were 152 students compiling kernels at the same time on a modest nine server setup, and it didn’t skip a beat.”

One of the best aspects of the OpenStack solution is the ability to dynamically allocate storage as needed by the users. Using the “cinder” cloud storage provider service, they were able to provision 55 TB and any user needing more space could request an allocation from that supply.  That additional disk space could also be easily moved and shared as required.

During Fall 2015 and Winter 2016, the OpenStack solution was used to support three computer science courses as well as graduate big data research involving tools such as MPI, cilk, and Hadoop.

Following the success of this beta program, SCS is looking to expand the service for Fall 2016.