World-First Computing Technology on the ARDC Nectar Research Cloud

A new partnership between ARDC, NVIDIA and Monash University brings leading edge technology to the ARDC Nectar Research Cloud.
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The demand for research computing power is increasing at an exponential rate as more research involves moving and analysing large and complex data sets to tackle the big challenges we’re facing, such as the evolving COVID-19 pandemic, climate change and food security.

“To meet the demands of researchers, the ARDC Nectar Research Cloud must provide very fast access to increasingly large data sets, while handling growing requirements for cybersecurity, particularly for sensitive data,” said Carmel Walsh, Director of eResearch Infrastructure & Service at the Australian Research Data Commons (ARDC).

“It is a considerable challenge to provide increased cybersecurity on our research cloud without negatively impacting network and compute performance.”

To address this challenge, a partnership between NVIDIAMonash University’s eResearch CentreMonash University’s Cyber Risk & Resilience team and the ARDC kicked off earlier this year to bring data processing units (DPUs) to the ARDC Nectar Research Cloud, Australia’s federated research cloud.

Data Processing Units (DPUs) to Handle Increasing Cybersecurity Demands

This is the first time in the world that DPUs are being used in research computing.

DPUs are a new class of programmable processor that will join central processing units (CPUs) and graphics processing units (GPUs) as one of the 3 pillars of computing, according to its creator, NVIDIA. DPUs are a system on a chip that moves data around the data center.

DPUs show huge potential for research computing. A key advantage of DPUs is the ability to move computational-intensive network and data centre processes to a dedicated card. Processes such as advanced cybersecurity take considerable computing power to run on a networked computer. With DPUs, these heavy processes can be moved to a dedicated card, freeing up computational power for researchers.

Unlike CPUs and GPUs, DPUs will not be used directly by researchers. However, researchers will benefit from faster access to data, more security and more CPU power available for research computation on the ARDC Nectar Research Cloud.

Leading-Edge Technology for the Research Cloud

There are now 10 NVIDIA BlueField-2 DPUs in the Monash University node of the ARDC Nectar Research Cloud thanks to the partnership. If the trial is successful, the technology could expand to other Nectar nodes around Australia.

“Supporting research at a national and international level requires investment in leading edge technology,” said Carmel.

“The ARDC is excited to partner with the Monash eResearch Centre and NVIDIA to explore how to apply DPUs to research computing and how to scale this technology nationally to provide Australian researchers with the competitive advantage.”

Dr Steve Quenette, Deputy Director of the Monash eResearch Centre and the project lead said: “Every organisation involved in a digital research project, no matter where the computers are, will see those projects as potentially critical infrastructure. They will want to use their security tools to mitigate cybersecurity risks of those projects. The challenge is to minimise the performance impact of many security tools and to build confidence in emerging approaches.”

“An example, we are exploring the idea that micro-segmentation could happen at the data governance layer per application/environment rather than at the infrastructure or organisational layer. This enables applications to be actively and deeply monitored, as data traverses a researcher’s computer, edge devices, safe havens, storage, clouds and HPC. By offloading technology and processes to achieve security, the shadow-cost of security (as felt by the researcher) is minimised, whilst increasing the transparency and controls of each organisation’s Security Operation Centre. It is a win-win to all parties involved.”

“Your favourite security appliance already has, or will soon have, a DPU port. Hence we’re also working with the sector on how each tool applies and performs in the collaborative research context,” said Steve.

Dan Maslin, Monash University Chief Information Security Officer, said: “As we continue to push the boundaries of research technology, it’s important that we explore new and innovative ways that utilise bleeding edge technology to protect both our research data and underpinning infrastructure. This partnership and the exploratory use of DPUs is exciting for both Monash University and the industry more broadly.”

Ami Badani, Vice President of Marketing at NVIDIA, said: “The transformation of the data center into the new unit of computing demands zero-trust security models that monitor all data center transactions in real time.”

“NVIDIA is collaborating with Monash University on pioneering cybersecurity breakthroughs powered by the NVIDIA Morpheus AI cybersecurity framework, which uses machine learning to anticipate threats with real-time, all-packet inspection.”

The ARDC Nectar Research Cloud provides computing infrastructure and supporting core services to over 3,000 active Australian researchers for over 1,780 projects. Nectar hosts services that are used by more than 50,000 researchers.

Australian researchers can try Nectar via a free project trial for 6 months. Allocation on Nectar is then available at no cost to those conducting research of national merit in Australia.

Learn more about how Australian researchers can use the ARDC Nectar Research Cloud.

We also invite you to contact us to discuss security for research computing.

This article is based on a Research @ Cloud Monash article, Monash University, NVIDIA and ARDC partner to explore the offloading of security in collaborative research applications.

The ARDC is funded through the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS) to support national digital research infrastructure for Australian researchers.