Interns Keep MITRE's High-Performance Computing Operations on Track

February 2020
High-Performance Computing Interns
Student interns around a conference room table with video screens behind them.

When the eight interns assigned to MITRE's High-Performance Computing (HPC) department arrived in the summer of 2019, they were given two ambitious tasks: implement a new scheduling system for the HPC's computer clusters and re-design the site that monitors their use.

What makes these tasks so important?

Engineers and scientists from all across MITRE use the HPC clusters to do research and crunch numbers for the federally funded research and development centers (FFRDCs) MITRE operates. These FFRDCs develop transformational capabilities in defense, transportation, energy, healthcare, civil agency administration, homeland security, atmospheric sciences, science policy, and other areas. Efficiently scheduling time on the HPC clusters is critical to enabling this work.

Helping All of MITRE

Software-based schedulers allocate resources on HPC clusters, allowing users to queue up computing jobs and run code when cluster resources become available.

The interns knew that support for the existing scheduler, Moab/TORQUE, would expire soon. So they began experimenting with an increasingly popular open-source scheduler called Slurm (for Simple Linux Utility for Resource Management—and a reference to animated TV show Futurama), putting it through its paces on test beds they created. Their testing yielded positive results, and Slurm became the new HPC scheduler.

The group's supervisor, Christine Harvey, was impressed with the interns' work and reports the new system is working well.

"Our HPC interns are awesome!" she says.

Harvey provides the interns with some hands-on training at the beginning of the summer, supplies them with a list of tools, and gives them problems to solve, such as the scheduler replacement task. She provides supervision and holds office hours, but most of the interns enjoy doing their own troubleshooting.

 "It really works well that way," she says. "They're able to solve problems on their own and take advantage of their peers' knowledge, but if they're really stuck on something there's support available."

"The most challenging part of my experience was working with the HPC cluster," says Ernesto Diaz Cruz, a first-year master's student at Florida International University. "Until this past summer, I'd never had the opportunity to work with any type of scheduler.

"But after going through the initial training that all users are required to do, I was able to hit the ground running and complete my tasks."

Reasons to Be Cheerful

What were some of the things the interns most enjoyed during their summer in MITRE's HPC department?

"Meeting and working with other interns from different parts of the country, each with different skillsets and backgrounds," Diaz Cruz says.

"The work, the events, and all the free food!" says Anthony Roberts, a first-year master's student at the University of Minnesota.

Interns Continue to Contribute

This is the second summer the HPC program has had interns. Each year, as part of a MITRE initiative to hire a diverse group of interns, MITRE's Center for Programs and Technology (CPT) recruits students and finds summer assignments for them within the organization.

Charlotte Farmer, director of CPT Operations, says the CPT intern program has been very successful.

"We're very pleased with summer intern performance. The feedback and multiple requests for follow-up support we've received indicate that summer interns continue to make a notable impact."

In addition to Diaz Cruz and Roberts, this year's HPC interns were:

Five of this year's HPC interns—Diaz Cruz, Roberts, Ankomah-Mensah, Palmer, and Jordan—will continue working for MITRE throughout the school year as part of the GEM Fellowship program, telecommuting as they continue their academic careers.

—by Tom Nutile

Interested in becoming a MITRE intern? View our Job Openings or read more about our Student Programs.