Frequently Asked Questions: Advanced Computing Group, University of Maine System

What does the ACG do?

The Advanced Computing Group provides computing infrastructure to meet research and education computing needs throughout the state of Maine.  The computational resources reside in the newly renovated UMS Data Center in Orono, ME. ACG services include high performance cluster computing, cloud computing and large data storage.

How much does it cost?

Rates are currently being revised and are dependent upon your affiliation with an element of the University of Maine System. The ACG does not turn away members of the Maine research due to an inability to pay. Based on need and affiliation, the ACG may choose to waive costs until such time as the researcher is able to secure a funding source.  Contact the ACG to discuss your needs and situation. Rate information for ACG resources can be found at: https://acg.umaine.edu/pricing/

What if I don’t have a funding source?

The ACG does not turn away members of the Maine research community due to an inability to pay. Based on need and affiliation, the ACG may choose to waive costs until such time as the researcher is able to secure a funding source.  The ACG will assist you to do your Data Management Planning as part of your research funding proposals.

How do I request an account (cluster/cloud)?

Look for the online forms.  For cluster computing: https://acg.umaine.edu/training-support/hpc/marconi_account/

and for cloud computing: https://acg.umaine.edu/training-support/getting-started-with-vms/vmaccountrequest/

I’m having problems with my service, who do I call?

The quickest way to reach a member of the ACG is to send an email to acg@maine.edu. This distribution list will reach the staff member that can best reply.  In addition you can report problems online at: https://acg.umaine.edu/report-a-problem/ or if you’re working directly with one of our staff members they will provide you with direct contact media as appropriate.

My job keeps getting queued-up.  How do I get it to run sooner?

Job queues are a way of optimizing access to a shared resource (in this case computing time). The larger your job is, the harder it will be to fit into a schedule with other jobs.  There are three things you should consider when scheduling a job.  1) Are you asking for more processors than needed?  Different nodes on the cluster have different numbers of available processors, so if you’re asking for a large number of processors you may be limiting the number of nodes on which your job could possibly run.  2) Are you asking for more processing time than is needed?  To avoid having the job terminated prematurely it is easy to just pick an amount of time well in excess of what you expect the run to take.  Doing so, though, makes your job less “competitive” to the scheduler’s algorithm. Try to pick a request run time that is “just enough”. 3) Are you specifying a particular queue that is very much in demand? Queues have been established for specialized resources.  If you’re requesting a specialized queue without needing that particular resources you could be unnecessarily limiting the number of nodes that could service your request.

I need more (memory/cpus/storage) than I have available.  How can I increase them?

Adding additional resources to your account is a simple, administrative, change.  Contact your ACG representative to discuss your needs or email them to acg@maine.edu.

I need a particular software library added to the cluster – how do I request it?

Additional modules can be added to the cluster.  Contact your ACG representative to discuss your needs or email them to acg@maine.edu.

Can I change from one size of virtual machine to another without disrupting my existing configuration?

In most cases you can INCREASE the size of a virtual machine safely.  Decreasing the size of an existing VM can be problematic.  Contact your ACG representative to discuss your needs or email them to acg@maine.edu.

Is my storage backed up?

Yes.  Multiple backups of your data are created, with a copy stored off-site (in Portland, ME) in case of disaster.

What if I have particular data-security needs (like HIPAA or FERPA)?

ACG storage is not pre-certified for those applications, but the infrastructure is in place to support those standards should your program require them.  Should that be a requirement for your research we would be happy to work with you to arrange those certifications.

I want to share storage with my team members.  What’s the best way to set that up?

The ACG offers a “Seafile” services that support collaboration between members, strong version control,  and a high degree of access granularity. Contact your ACG representative to discuss your needs or email them to acg@maine.edu.

Can I access my virtual machine from a remote location?

A correctly configured virtual machine can be accessed from anywhere in the world.  Public IP addresses are part of the package offered with ACG Cloud Computing.  Keep in mind that you’ll need to consider Cyber Security when running such a machine.  ACG can help you to configure your virtual machines to protect your data.

I need help with a Data Management Plan for my grant.  Can the ACG help me?

Yes we can.  ACG participates in the DMPTool program.  You can access it at https://dmptool.org using your UMaine login credentials.  As usual, contact your ACG representative to discuss your needs or email them to acg@maine.edu.

How do I meet my grant requirements for providing access to my data after the grant ends and I no longer have funding?

Copies of your research data and documents can be left online in perpetuity through the Maine DataVerse Network.  Contact your ACG representative to discuss your needs or email them to acg@maine.edu. DataVerse credentials can be provided for your research team so that the archive process can become an integrated part of your research work flow.

My K-12 program needs computing resources.  Could I use ACG machines?

Yes the ACG works with numerous K-12 programs and can provide virtual machines that would be usable for students in the classroom. Contact your ACG representative to discuss your needs or email them to acg@maine.edu.

My program isn’t compiling.  Who can I call?

The ACG has staff members who are conversant in many modern programming languages.  While we can’t necessarily debug things for you, our experienced staff may be able to provide additional insights or point you toward a way of resolving your problem.  Contact your ACG representative to discuss your needs or email them to acg@maine.edu.

I’m starting up a research team in my department that could use mentoring on computation. Can the ACG help?

Yes the ACG staff periodically provides training and educational seminars on computation. Contact your ACG representative to discuss your needs or email them to acg@maine.edu.

For the cloud service, what preconfigured distros are available?

Virtual machines are offered in a variety of sizes and operating system distributions. Machine sizes vary from Tiny (single processor) through Small (two processors) , Medium (four processors), Large (eight processors) to Huge (16 processors).  The images are built on 80 Gigabytes of storage. Operating system distributions include Centos 7 Server, Ubuntu 16.04 Server and Windows-2012 Server (4-29-16).  Other distributions can be developed if you have a particular need.

What are some similarities and differences between the ACG services and other platforms like AWS?

The services provided are similar — a combination of cloud-based storage, virtual machines and, in some cases, high-performance computing time.  ACG services are hosted on machines administered and controlled by the University of Maine System. Access to the hardware, software and data are controlled exclusively by UMS personnel. There are no transfer costs associated with moving data to and from these systems.  Conversely, a commercial system (like AWS) is hosted at an unspecified data center and entities having access to those hardware, software and data assets are at the discretion of the cloud service.  In addition, commercial entities typically charge a fee for data moving onto and from these machines — which, with large data sets, can often be a significant cost. Commercial services are operated for profit, while the ACG is not.

What protocol(s) can I use to access my virtual machine?

A variety of networking protocols are available to access virtual machines from the ACG.  Those protocols include HTTPS, SSH, VNC and RDP.  We also frequently make use of guacamole clients that allow RDP sessions to be wrapped in an HTML5 application — making the machine accessible from any modern browser.

Is there a discount for students of the university?

Currently there is no discount for student use of ACG resources.  In many cases a student working on a research project can gain access to computing resources through their mentor.  Contact the ACG via email at acg@maine.edu to discuss your situation.

I spun up a new VM but can’t seem to access it via SSH, what do I do?

The most common cause of not being able to SSH into a new VM is not adding the proper security groups to open the firewall.  For more information about security groups see our virtual machine cloud documentation at https://docs.google.com/document/d/14m1EMw59y6IvQvN-Jj1qeoWROaWJRTZgnAD4TarqKBY/edit#heading=h.8w0on2rrqcg0

Is there anywhere else I can look for information?

The website https://ask.cyberinfrastructure.org/ can be a great source for asking questions about research computing and cyberinfrastructure.

updated:2/14/20