Reducing the barrier to entry using portable apps

TitleReducing the barrier to entry using portable apps
Publication TypeConference Paper
Year of Publication2011
AuthorsColbry, D
Conference NameProceedings of the 2011 TeraGrid Conference: Extreme Digital Discovery
Conference LocationNew York, NY, USA
ISBN Number978-1-4503-0888-5
Keywordsoutreach, research portals

An increasing number of turnkey, domain specific software packages are available to help users take advantage of advanced cyber-infrastructure and resources such as {TeraGrid.} However, novice users of cyber-infrastructure are often overwhelmed by the complexities of using cyber-infrastructure. For instance, the user may need to install multiple software tools just to connect with advanced hardware, and successfully installing and navigating this software frequently requires the use of Command Line Interfaces {(CLI)} that are unfamiliar to novice users. Even when applications provide a Graphical User Interface {(GUI)}, special software (such as an X11 server) may be required to use the interface. Installing, configuring and running this software is generally a multi-step process that can be overly confusing to novice users and presents a barrier to entry, particularly in research domains not traditionally associated with advanced computation. Scientific gateways (such as the {TeraGrid} Portal [1]) are one possible solution to this problem. However, not all research projects or High Performance Computing {(HPC)} centers have the resources necessary to provide scientific gateways. We have developed an alternative solution: a "plug and play" {HPC} system portal stored on a {USB} thumb drive. The thumb drive contains all the software necessary to connect to traditional cyber-infrastructure and all programs run directly from the thumb drive – no installation or setup is required. To access the software from a Windows-based machine, the user simply connects the thumb drive and runs the desired programs. The current thumb drive includes all the typical software necessary to connect to an {HPC} resource, such as X11 [2], ssh [3], and scp [4]. Since the software is pre-installed on the drive, it can also be preconfigured with the necessary preferences required to immediately connect to the resource. This presentation will describe the development process for the {"Portable} Apps" [5] {HPC} thumb drive, including lessons learned and suggestions for adapting the paradigm for other systems. The Portable Apps drive has been successfully distributed to both expert and novice {HPC} users at Michigan State University {(MSU)} and has proved to be a popular and easy-to-use tool for accessing local and national cyber-infrastructure resources, including {TeraGrid} [6]. This presentation will offer specific suggestions for adapting the Portable Apps idea (such as procedures for site specific applications [7]) and developing similar outreach and educational tools for other institutions and resources.