ARCHER Driving Test retrospective

Back in February 2015, a little over a year after the ARCHER service began, EPCC launched an entirely new and innovative access route, for users to get time on ARCHER via a “Driving Test”

ARCHER Driving Test Certificate

The idea behind this was to help those who had never used ARCHER, or possibly any HPC resource, to get a small amount of time to enable them to familiarise themselves with the HPC environment. They could run a few test jobs, and generally be supported in gaining the knowledge and confidence to then go forward to tackle real research tasks in funded projects, or even to prepare to submit their own HPC based proposals.

I use ARCHER extensively, and have done throughout my PhD, postdoc, and now early career fellowship. … Almost all of my papers have used computing time from ARCHER.

The test format is an online quiz comprising 20 questions, selected from a question bank of over 100. The questions cover various topics including the ARCHER hardware, software environment, compilers, job submission options, queues, I/O and resource management.

If you asked me to set up an introduction to HPC course for undergrads or postgrads, I would include the ARCHER driving test, because it had high quality supporting materials.

There is no time limit to taking the test, and no limit to the number of attempts - the whole idea is that it helps and challenges the user to find out all the things that will help them to get up and running confidently - and once they have enough knowledge to pass then they are ready to try their knowledge out on the machine.

The Driving Test has proven to be extremely popular and successful. Since its launch, having run now for almost 5 years, we have had 587 people pass the test and 455 of them have signed up for their account. 70,460 jobs have been run, using 279,638 kAUs in total.

ARCHER Driving Test Users

Some of these have been directed to take the Driving Test and then practice running a few jobs by PIs of funded project so that the new PhD students and Postdocs joining their projects can quickly master the initial skills before diving in to the main project work (and budget).

It was useful for finding out how ARCHER worked and how it differed from the local system I was using at the time.

And others have been HPC users with quite a bit of experience, but who want to try something different - perhaps a novel change to the codes they are working on, or to try out an idea for a possible new project. The free access enables this, without the hoops and paperwork required for a full funding application.

Fantastic! With the driving test I was able to test my code on ARCHER looking at scalability. This data then supported two successful eCSE proposals to improve the file IO and dipole field calculations in my code, as well as a successful RAP allocation. This has enabled me to publish some very good research papers using ARCHER.

The ARCHER Driving Test has been such a success story that we are now working to launch a similar access scheme for our Tier2 machine Cirrus, and we are already developing the questions which will be used in the ARCHER2 Driving Test, due to be launched after the full 23 cabinet system is available later this year. Those who were successful on the ARCHER Driving Test will be pleased to hear that they are still eligible to complete the ARCHER2 test and get a new award of time there.