Cloud-Based Visualization at Pennsylvania State University

Penn State

Researchers at Pennsylvania State University have used funds made available through Unidata's Community Equipment Awards program to prototype a system for using cloud-based resources to provide access to 3D-visualization software. Their project, titled “A Prototype Cloud-Based Visualization System for Unidata Applications,” focused on running Unidata's Integrated Data Viewer (IDV) on a remote (“cloud”) system and making it available on multiple remote clients.

The project is described this way in the abstract of the Penn State group's report:

Graphical visualization is a critical tool used for meteorological study. Whereas graphical representations in years past were made with paper and ink, today they are produced with computers using advanced analysis and display workstation software. In the case of a classroom, the cost of installing and maintaining high-end graphical systems can be prohibitive, making widespread use of applications such as the Unidata IDV difficult to accomplish economically. This project overcomes this difficulty by developing a prototype system that concentrates high-end capabilities in “the cloud” and requires only average-speed networks to connect remote thin clients to the cloud servers. The benefits of this approach include more efficient use of resources, lower cost of hardware and management, and improved accessibility to the end user.

Art Person and Professor George Young used their 2016 Community Equipment Award to purchase hardware servers to run the Apache Mesos distributed systems kernel. Mesos is an open source cluster manager designed to simplify running applications on a scalable cluster of servers. This, in conjunction with the Marathon container orchestration platform, let them administer multiple Docker containers each implementing an IDV instance accessible using a VNC client on “thin client” hardware in a Penn State classroom computer laboratory.

Initial results of the Penn State investigations, along with details about the construction of the Apache Mesos cluster and the Docker containers used, are available in the group's Equipment Award report. Next steps for the project will include operational testing in a classroom-like environment, in preparation for “live” instructional use in the near future.

Unidata Community Equipment Award grants make funds available to colleges and universities to puchase equipment or cloud-based computing services that will enhance their participation in the Unidata program. For additional information on program, visit the Equipment Awards page.

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