Who decides how the national e-infrastructure resources are used?


When scientists in Norway need access to high-performance computing and data resources to conduct their research, they can apply to use the national e-infrastructure owned by Sigma2.

This entails access to the national supercomputers Betzy, Fram and Saga, and to NIRD, the storage system for scientific research data. In addition, researchers can get access to the new European supercomputer LUMI, of which Sigma2 owns parts of the resources. 

Demand for Sigma2´s resources and services is continually increasing as more and more disciplines need HPC and large-scale data management in their research. Last period we allocated resources to nearly 400 projects, and there are still not enough resources for all storage projects that want access. But who decides which projects get granted resources?

Sigma2 symbol.

Resources worth almost 145 million NOK

Since 2015, a Resource Allocation Committee (RFK) appointed by Sigma2´s board has been in charge of the allocation. Staffed with highly skilled scientists with competence in e-science and e-infrastructure, the committee has the very important task of deciding how to distribute the available resources among relevant research projects.  

More than 20 researchers from a wide range of disciplines have contributed to the committee since its inception in 2015 when Sigma2 assumed the responsibility for resource allocation from the Research Council of Norway.  

Currently, the national e-infrastructure resources consist of 1.4 billion CPU hours and 20 PB of storage in total. This means that the RFK is responsible for allocating resources worth as much as 144.6 million NOK. 

— The RFK is managing resources worth a lot of money. The committee conducts a very important job in ensuring a fair and transparent distribution of our national resources so that societal beneficial research can be carried out in a resource- and cost-efficient manner, says Gunnar Bøe, Managing Director of Sigma2.  

Who are the members of RFK and how do they work?  

The committee is appointed for three years and is set up to cover various user groups. Nowadays, there are researchers from various research disciplines, such as climate research, physics and computer science, represented. 

In the current period, Alexander (Lex) Nederbragt from the Department of Biosciences and the Centre for Ecological and Evolutionary Synthesis (CEES) at the University of Oslo is the leader of the Resource Allocation Committee. 

— Since computing and large datasets are now a part of more and more fields of research, it is vital to have a broad representation of disciplines in the committee. The more sides of research we cover the better we can address our main task, which is to evaluate the applications on their scientific merit, Lex Nederbragt says. 

However, as Nederbragt has been a member of the committee for several years, he has now indicated that he will step out from the RFK.   

— Leading the RFK committee has been both an honour and a great responsibility. The committee distributes computing and storage resources of enormous value to the Norwegian research community and does this work on behalf of all Norwegian researchers. That sometimes can feel overwhelming, as well as satisfying, if one realises how much compute hours and disk space we allocate. With such a great diversity of backgrounds amongst the members, it makes the work of leading the committee also a great joy. 

The committee´s main tasks are to prepare and maintain application guidelines and ensure that resources are allocated accordingly. The Committee evaluates proposals based on scientific merit and the evaluation of the science of the research activity and documented needs.  

The decisions are guided by the following: 

  • Quality and completeness of the application 
  • Quality and state-of-the-art of the solution methods and software 
  • Scientific value and impact, e.g., internationally competitive research 
  • Expected measurable output in several publications and students (master and PhD). 
  • Demonstrated need for access to leading-edge compute or storage facilities 
  • New user groups and disciplines are given higher priority 
  • The request for resources (type and amount) must be reasonable. E.g., projects that repeatedly overestimate their needs (i.e., use considerably fewer resources than they applied for) in successive allocation periods will be reduced in size. 

The RFK meets twice a year and is thoroughly supported by the Sigma2 administration who manages the application process, allocations, follow-up and reporting.  

A Technical Working Group consisting of NRIS* members with in-depth knowledge of the characteristics and status of the resources and of the (existing) projects that use the e-infrastructure also supports the committee. The Technical Working Group aims to support the Committee in the technical evaluation of the proposals.  

— The committee comprises a lot of research expertise but cannot do its work without the technical expertise that the RFK Technical Working Group provides. The Working Group is doing a tremendous job evaluating the technical sides of the applications. Its recommendations are very sound and really prepare the ground for smooth decision-making in the committee, says Lex Nederbragt.

The mandate for the current committee is in its final phase and the Sigma2 Board has started the process of appointing new members.  

— Ensuring a fair allocation is important, and we are very pleased with the resource allocation committee's work. The integrity of such a committee is of great significance, and we are proud of the way they handle this very important national social mission, says Gunnar Bøe.