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SHARCNET Policy on the Acquisition of Commercial Software

Draft for comments
Version 1.1
2005-12-19

Preamble

SHARCNET's original focus was to provide a comprehensive development environment that allowed users to develop, debug and optimize code with a particular emphasis on parallel cluster computing. Whilst this focus remains strong, it is clear that SHARCNET has to be flexible in terms of supporting commercial or third party software if it is to encourage researcher participation across a range of disciplines. The fundamental focus remains to encourage the use of SHARCNET infrastructure for forefront research that could not otherwise be accomplished. Researchers from many disciplines, in particular Chemistry, Mathematics, Biology and Engineering, as well as non-traditional users of HPC frequently depend upon commercial software.

Appropriate Commercial Software

A number of constraints may limit the types of software that is suitable for the SHARCNET environment.

  • There is a strong preference for software that has the ability to run in batch mode. The majority of SHARCNET's HPC cycles are used in a scheduled batch environment and thus software presenting an interactive interface may be less suitable.
  • Not all computational software is efficient HPC software. Some software was never designed to run in a parallel environment and/or is simply inefficient. There may be little to be gained by a user running software on SHARCNET compared with running on her/his own desktop system (indeed, the processors may be the same!). The ability of SHARCNET's systems to enable leading research lies in the scale of problems that can be addressed: either single applications running on a large number of processors or problems requiring very many different instances of applications to be computed. Some applications are poorly suited to this task. This is not to say that cycles that would otherwise be idle cannot be used by such applications.

SHARCNET is committed to helping users migrate to more effective applications that can benefit more strongly from SHARCNET infrastructure and promote more ambitious use of HPC. This support could include help with coding, for example, a Matlab algorithm as a C routine or finding code (perhaps freeware) that can run more efficiently on HPC systems.

Supporting Commercial Software

The cost and licencing of commercial packages varies enormously. In some cases cost-effective site licences are available, in others the cost for the required number of licences on systems as large as SHARCNET's makes the cost prohibitive; there are frequently many other considerations. These wide variations make it impossible to prescribe a detailed policy to cover all expected software packages.

Beyond the issues of suitability of a particular software package for SHARCNET's HPC environment, the key question is the cost of the software and who pays. The motivation for SHARCNET supporting a low-level programming and development environment is that applications making use of these tools best leverage the infrastructure and that researchers using these tools are found in all disciplines (although admittedly in varying numbers and at varying levels of sophistication).

Given the range of software packages that are requested by users, it is simply not feasible for SHARCNET to entertain supporting all of them. Most commercial software packages requested are discipline specific or are restricted to a small number of disciplines. For this reason the costs associated with the software should be borne by the end user community of that software in a cooperative arrangement.

Principles

SHARCNET has adopted the following principles:

  • SHARCNET is willing to coordinate and negotiate advantageous licencing deals for its partner researchers and institutions as it is able. There are clear benefits in doing this and SHARCNET sees it as an important part of its role.
  • SHARCNET will commit to hosting appropriate commercial, discipline-specific software on its systems with the costs being shared by the end user community. SHARCNET may entertain a cost sharing relationship between researchers and SHARCNET if funds permit, if the software has very wide applicability and if it effectively leverages the SHARCNET infrastructure. An example of such software might be a general scientific visualization package for installation on our visualization equipment. Software hosted under these conditions will be provided to the user community (with appropriate and, if necessary, controlled access) but will confer no other rights or expectations on the community beyond that it will be available and properly installed and maintained. Such use will be subject to the overall guidelines for SHARCNET's allocation of resources.
  • Given the licencing arrangements of some software and the efficiency with which it may execute on various architectures, SHARCNET may establish particular machines as sites where such software packages are licenced. Since the expectation is that all SHARCNET infrastructure is equally available to all SHARCNET researchers regardless of location, institution-specific licences for the same software already held by reseachers may be permitted to run on other SHARCNET systems but only at lower priority.
  • SHARCNET will entertain specific requests for alternate treatment of software packages on an ongoing basis.
  • SHARCNET will undertake to correctly install such software and to maintain it in a correctly operating fashion. The end-user support SHARCNET can provide is, however, limited both by available personnel and by limited knowledge of any particular package. On a best efforts basis, SHARCNET will attempt to provide support for users of the software.

Please send in your comments to sharcnet-policies@sharcnet.ca.