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Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The RCC and Fordham's Academic Computing Environment (ACE)

Image source: Christina L. Cook
When it comes to crunching a lot of numbers, sand, abaci, paper, and chalkboards have long been abandoned. In their place are powerful servers that help researchers analyze big data, perform simulations, and write software. Thanks to the Academic Computing Environment (ACE) built and hosted by Fordham IT and supported by Instructional Technology and Academic Computing (ITAC), University researchers and their students from the sciences and the humanities at the University now have the ability to run high-performance, long-term computations, and monitor their progress. 

One such project running on ACE is the Research Computation Cluster (RCC), a collection of enterprise-class Linux servers, optimized for multi-user and interdisciplinary research computation and data analysis. The RCC was implemented by Dr. Abraham Smith and Dr. Ian Morrison from the Mathematics Department, with the support of ITAC's Faculty Technology Services, the Office of Research's Faculty Research Expense Program (FREP), and the Dean of Arts and Sciences. 

RCC Benefits
A primary benefit of the RCC is that it provides a safe, powerful alternative to personal desktop workstations used by faculty for computations. The RCC's cloud-based environment means faculty and students do not have to pause their research to carry out quotidian maintenance tasks, such as backups and software updates. Those tasks are done automatically, on the server.

Research students use the system to learn the basics of programming and data analysis using tools like MatLab, R, SAS, and Mathematica in a professional Unix environment, giving them valuable experience that will benefit them in future doctoral research and their
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careers. The RCC has also been instrumental in the summer research projects of several Rose Hill undergraduates, including some 
Clare Boothe Luce scholars.

Together, ACE and the RCC have saved individual departments thousands of dollars that their researchers would have needed to fund, purchase, and configure their hardware, as well as manage the ongoing administration of their servers. 

While the Mathematics Department makes the most use of the RCC, faculty and students from other departments are finding new uses for the system. 

RCC Projects
For example, neuroscience students are studying neurodevelopmental diseases using an NIH database of connectome images of the brain. The Economics Department uses the RCC to analyze international trade data. The Clare Booth Luce Scholars are developing computer vision and image recognition. Over at the Chemistry Department, researchers and their students explore how to model electron orbits. And back in the Mathematics Department, a cohort of ten undergraduates performed research in pure mathematics using fast computer algebra software. 

Contact RCC
Interested in using the RCC environment? Send an email to RCC@fordham.edu or to Alan Cafferkey, Director, Faculty Technology Services, cafferkey@fordham.edu.


These fascinating research projects at Fordham would not be moving forward today without the RCC model of a shared resource.


Faculty from any department are welcome to explore and use the RCC. They should contact Abraham Smith at the Mathematics Department for more information. 

More About ACE
The Academic Computing Environment meets faculty demand for cloud-based computing resources. It is a boon to departments and faculty with born-digital scholarly projects or who wish to carry out research and experimentation using technology. In addition to the RCC, other projects getting started include digital humanities ventures, meta-text inquiries, and media presentations. 

The ACE Sandbox
ACE's sandbox environment allows faculty to research, experiment on, and test projects before bringing them to teaching or funding environments, or making them public.

Strengthen Grant-Based Research

Faculty include ACE in their list of technology resources for research projects, including those that support University initiatives and grants, such as Faculty Innovators andGrowing Research at Fordham. For internal and external grant applications, computing resources such as ACE can be crucial evidence of a project's academic viability and institutional commitment. 

Collaborate

ACE is a collaborative space. Faculty can work with colleagues and students assistants at Fordham and at other institutions on projects from anywhere in the world. 

Interested? 
Contact Alan Cafferkey, Director, Faculty Technology Services, cafferkey@fordham.edu.

Acknowledgments
Thank you, Abe Smith, for supplying information about the RCC to help create this post.