iCSF - interactive Computational Shared Facility (aka Incline)

Overview

What is the iCSF?

The iCSF, aka Incline, is a service designed specifically for interactive computationally-intensive work. For example using applications such as Matlab, R, and Stata through their graphical user interface (GUI) to process / analyse large datasets. The iCSF provides compute-hardware with more memory and CPUs than you have available on your desktop.

Academics are encouraged to contribute to the iCSF to gain access to high-end interactive resources that integrate with the CSF and RDS service (isilon storage).

A user’s first experience with the iCSF

Egor Zindy (senior experimental officer, FLS) reports on his first experiences with the iCSF.

How does it differ from the CSF?

The iCSF does not use a batch queue. When you connect to the login node you will be automatically logged in to one of the back-end nodes. These are essentially high-end linux workstations that you can begin using straight away – no need to submit jobs to a batch system. The applications that you run (RStudio, Stata, …) can start up a GUI without any need to use qrsh to schedule an interactive session (as you would have to do on the CSF).

The iCSF has no GPU hardware. If you need GPUs you will need to use the CSF3 which has Nvidia V100s and A100s and a range of popular GPU/Machine Learning/Deep Learning software.

The lack of batch system does mean, however, that you will need to remain logged in to the iCSF for your applications to keep running. If your data analysis needs several days to complete, staying logged in may be difficult from a desktop / laptop. Hence we recommend logging in via our Virtual Desktop Service. You can leave yourself logged in to the iCSF for days / weeks if you log in from the virtual desktop and you can connect and disconnect from that desktop as many times as you like without interrupting your iCSF logins.

Should I use both the CSF and iCSF?

Yes, this is encouraged! Many researchers run applications which require both batch-compute and interactive use. For example, a Finite Element Analysis package may require interactive use on the iCSF(incline) to set up the mesh and apply solver settings and other parameters. Once this has been saved to a file a batch-compute job could be started on the CSF to do a long-running, high-memory, parallel analysis using hundreds of cores. When the job completes the final results can be inspected in the GUI back on the iCSF.

Users of Incline will have access to the same home directory (and other RDS/Isilon-based filesystems) as they have on the CSF. Hence switching between batch use and interactive use is very easy – you don’t have to transfer any files between the two systems.

What other benefits are there of using the iCSF?

If you use the Virtual Desktop Service to access both the iCSF and CSF it is simply a matter of using SSH from the virtual desktop to log in to both systems. The GUIs of any applications you run on the iCSF (and CSF) will appear on the virtual desktop, providing a fast and responsive interactive experience no matter where you have connected to the virtual desktop from, be it on campus, at home, or away at a conference.

Another key advantage is that you no longer need to transfer large output files back to your own desktop PC or laptop (where they might not be being backed up!) to view in an application’s GUI. In fact you don’t need to install the applications on your local computer at all.

Talk to the Research Infrastructure Team

If you would like to know more about Incline, please contact the Research Infrastructure team via the HPC Help form.

Last modified on June 22, 2023 at 12:51 pm by Pen Richardson