RSE Meet-up - Speed Blogging

Speed blogging is a way to bring together small groups of people with similar interests and experiences to document ideas, opinions and challenges.

A number of RSEs joined N8 CIR's speed blogging event in June 2020, using it as an opportunity to meet other RSEs and share and hear from others within the community.

The session's attendees split into two groups to discuss key issues facing the partnership; Working Together and Building a Community Around Bede.

Working Together Across N8 CIR

There was a clear recognition of the benefits of being part of the N8 Research Partnership as well as an understanding that each institution will operate in different ways. There was extensive conversation about this and how best to share the approaches of different institutions in such a way as to benefit everyone.

Naturally there are structural or administrative barriers to some of the suggestions but we will explore them in the coming months.

  • Encourage institutions to host an RSE for a day
  • Maintain a travel fund to support physical visits to other RSE groups
  • Secondment opportunities between institutions
  • Best practice toolkit for software tooling and related activities

Building on these ideas there was a lively exchange about developing workshops, activities and training across the N8. One of the most important themes to emerge was a desire for continuing collaboration between attendees. This was not limited to specific research tasks but included a desire to network and understand the skills and knowledge available within the partnership.

Session participants were keen to see regular online meet-ups to help overcome the geographic distance between N8 universities. Such activities were seen as a way of getting to know one another as well as increasing knowledge and understanding.

Over the next few months we’ll be taking these ideas and using them to inform future events and activities. Some ideas include:

  • Small meet-ups and discussion groups
  • Working with RSEs from other institutions to organise a conference
  • A session in SORSE
  • Allowing people to join online training courses at other institutions if they aren’t full
  • Maintained and supported training courses

Whatever form these events take they will need to balance core responsibilities to local institution-based teams and the wider N8 community.

It’s likely that any changes will be gradual, there have perhaps been too many huge changes to everyone’s way of working so far this year.

Building a Community Around Bede

The speed blogging around the N8’s new HPC platform looked at two different approaches to community building. Firstly they looked at ensuring that there are systems in place to share information between each institution’s RSEs that are supporting Bede and then looked at systems to ensure the research community are aware of, and engaged with, the exciting new hardware.


There is a clear desire to set up a dedicated Slack channel or Wiki within the N8 website to pool information and provide a rapid communication tool. A space on the N8 website could also be used for system documentation to ensure that all information is up to date. This space is also likely to include an overview of current projects that are being worked on to encourage sharing of ideas and knowledge.

Communication about Bede are likely to cover two strands, traditional HPC work such as Sarah Harris’s work from The University of Leeds and newer workflows around machine learning - Big Hypotheses, x-ray crystallography; 3D x-ray for Covid-19.

Alongside a community operating within the N8 research partnership there was a desire to engage with other institutions and the PowerAI community, such sites include Barcelona’s Supercomputer Centre and the Summit and Sierra clusters in north America. The BEAR cluster in Birmingham was also highlighted as a useful networking opportunity with a possibility of looking for example code that’s run there.

Research community

There is a clear wish from RSEs that this new hardware us used as early as possible. This will mean ensuring that researchers are fully aware of the additional capabilities that the new platform will offer.

As well as strong advocates at each institution a blog was also seen as a useful communication tool. This could host posts from the RSEs who will support the system, researchers that have benefited from the systems unique capabilities and perhaps guest posts from the team at IBM.

There was also a discussion around putting together a case study that showed the benefits of Bede’s unique architecture. The intention would be to compare how a traditional HPC platform, a GPU-accelerated platform and a linked GPU and CPU platform handle codes. This was seen as useful to highlight the real-world acceleration that researchers can expect to see rather than simply highlighting IBM’s official figures.


A first blog post about Bede is likely to include an introduction to the hardware and an overview of the benefits offered by the system’s unique architecture. It will then provide a platform for the system’s core RSEs to talk about their work and also connect with the N8’s broader RSE community.

It will then go on to talk about some of the projects that motivated Bede including next generation instrumentation and the AI and machine learning capabilities of the system.

The final wrap up will explain how to contact each institution’s RSEs and offer signposts to further information about Bede.

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