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FAQ for Prospective Users

WestGrid is one of four regional HPC consortia that operate and support Compute Canada national platform of supercomputing resources, which brings together computer and data facilities, computational expertise, and hundreds of academic researchers to tackle some of Canada’s biggest research challenges.

Compute Canada serves a user community across the country in disciplines ranging from the sciences and engineering to arts and humanities. The partner institutions and resource centres that comprise the national platform are hubs of interdisciplinary computational research. Together, these distributed computing facilities work collaboratively to provide the expertise and resources necessary to give Canada’s researchers and innovators access to world-class technologies.

As one of Compute Canada’s largest regional divisions, WestGrid encompasses 15 partner institutions across British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Its user community is supported by a distributed and cohesive team of technical staff and system architects.

Compute Canada, in partnership with regional organizations WestGrid, Compute Ontario, Calcul Québec and ACENET, leads the acceleration of research innovation by deploying state-of-the-art advanced research computing (ARC) systems, storage and software solutions. Together these partners provide essential ARC services and infrastructure for Canadian researchers and their collaborators in all academic and industrial sectors.

Compute Canada's world-class team of more than 200 experts, employed by 34 partner universities and research institutions across the country, provide direct support to research teams.

Compute Canada is a proud ambassador for Canadian excellence in ARC nationally and internationally.

 

WestGrid resources support research that depends on access to computing resources beyond the means of the local resources of the individual researcher. This also serves to relieve the researcher of the burden of maintaining his or her own machine room.

You should consider using WestGrid if your local computing environment presents fundamental barriers to advancement of your projects, due to such factors as limited numbers of machines, limited memory, inadequate disk space etc. Another reason to use WestGrid is for the access it provides to parallel processing for faster turnaround of individual jobs, and more aggregrate memory to enable larger jobs to be completed.

Please contact support@westgrid.ca if you have any questions about whether or not WestGrid is a fit for your research computing needs.

In general, any academic researcher from a Canadian research institution who requires significant high performance computing resources to support his or her research may apply for an account on WestGrid. WestGrid resources must be used exclusively for research projects that fit into one of the following categories:

  1. Research projects that are supported by a recognized funding agency
  2. Research projects that are eligible for funding from such an agency
  3. Industrial research projects
  4. Research under contract

WestGrid systems may be used for teaching purposes with some conditions (such as possible limits on the number of cycles available). WestGrid also recognizes the value of collaboration with industry and can accommodate commercial use of our services and resources for a fee (to be negotiated on a case-by-case basis). Please contact us for more information on using WestGrid for teaching or commercial purposes or for other questions regarding your project's eligibility.

To get a WestGrid account, faculty members and senior researchers at a Canadian university or research facility must first register themselves in the Compute Canada Database (CCDB). Graduate Students and Postdoctoral Fellows are eligible for WestGrid accounts, but they must be sponsored by a faculty member or senior researcher, who must first register in the CCDB. Step-by-step instructions for registering in the CCDB can be found here.

If you have questions about your eligibility, please contact us to further discuss your needs or visit our User Accounts section for more information on conditions of use, and how to apply for an account.

As a shared high-performance computing environment, researchers have a certain responsibility to use the WestGrid systems effectively. You are expected to learn the basics of UNIX file handling, how to transfer files, submit and monitor batch jobs, monitor your disk storage, etc. You should also be aware of the memory requirements of your job and be able to estimate such things as how long a job will take and how much disk space it will require.

If you are developing code yourself, you are expected to optimize your code through appropriate choice of algorithm, compiler flags, and, in many cases, using optimized numerical libraries. If you are using a discipline-specific package, you are expected to know how to prepare the input files, choose the appropriate options to apply the software to your particular problem, etc. Please note, the WestGrid environment is not an appropriate place to learn how to use software.

Our Using WestGrid section on the website contains a wealth of information that can help users navigate the day-to-day operations within the WestGrid environment. Also, WestGrid support analysts are happy to help you get started and assist you in learning to use the systems more effectively. If you have any questions at any time, please contact support@westgrid.ca.

Although some of the WestGrid computers are reserved for parallel computing, there are legitimate reasons to run serial jobs. You are welcome to run serial code on those systems where it is permitted. An overview of programming on WestGrid systems, including basic usage instructions for compilers and the debugging and optimization tools available on the WestGrid systems, can be found in our Using WestGrid section of the website.

Please contact WestGrid Support staff for assistance in selecting the most appropriate systems on which to run your jobs and to assist with the parallelization of your code. To contact WestGrid Support, send an email with your programming requirements to support@westgrid.ca.

 

All the WestGrid computers use a UNIX variant or Linux operating system. Work such as job preparation, compilation, testing and debugging may be done interactively, but, the majority of the WestGrid computing resources are available only for production batch-oriented computing. A job script to run your program is written using a UNIX shell scripting language and submitted to the batch job handling system for assignment to a machine for running.     

The tutorial video, Introduction to the WestGrid Development Environment, provides an overview of the compilers and development tools that are available on the WestGrid facilities, with an emphasis on the Intel Compiler Suite for C/C++ and Fortran. The first part of the talk will discuss common compiler flags and strategies for optimizing and debugging codes within the WestGrid environment. The second part of the presentation will provide a very brief introduction to advanced topics, including parallelization, vectorization with SIMD instructions, and the Intel Kernel Math Library.

If you have any questions regarding WestGrid's computing environment and whether it's a fit for your research needs, please contact support@westgrid.ca.

A variety of commodity and high-performance clusters, large shared-memory computers, and specialized storage, visualization and collaboration facilities are available. Our WestGrid Computing Facilities page provides more in-depth details about the various systems and advice on which one to use. A single account application gives access to all but a few of the more specialized resources, for which a separate request may be required.    

Users are encouraged to write to support@westgrid.ca for advice on which system is most appropriate for their needs.

There is a core of common software on WestGrid's systems, but due to user requirements or limitations of licensing or architecture, there are some differences in the programs offered at the various WestGrid sites. System software, compilers, mathematical and other libraries, and application software are listed and searchable on the main WestGrid software page. Software for each system can be accessed through the computing facilities page, by clicking on the name of the specific system from the main table listing all facilities.

WestGrid continually works to select and provide support for application software that benefits many users. WestGrid negotiates licenses for the use of these softwares on its systems. You can review WestGrid's Software Purchase Policy here.

If you don't see the software you require listed in our software database, please contact Support to discuss if it is something that WestGrid may want to consider adding to its software library.

There are many variables involved, including which system is being used, whether you have a small number of large runs or a large number of small runs, whether your project requires an allocation greater than the default, etc.

For an active user without unusually large memory or processor requirements, 10-30 processors may be obtained on a fairly regular basis. This generally falls within the "default" allocation size on our systems, which is available to any Canadian academic researcher after they have registered with the Compute Canada DataBase (CCDB). The size of default allocations does vary by system, so users are advised to consult Compute Canada's list of resources (viewable once logged into the CCDB) for more details or to contact WestGrid Support.     

For researchers who require greater than the default usage on any system, Compute Canada issues an annual Resource Allocation Call For Proposals every fall. Allocations are valid for one year, beginning in January. Under exceptional circumstances, such as in the case of long-term national and international projects, an extended timeframe may be granted. Allocations of longer than one year will be subject to NRAC (National Resource Allocation Committee) approval and will require the submission of an annual progress report.

Please email support@westgrid.ca with any questions you may have regarding computing power or special resource allocations. 

As one of Compute Canada’s largest regional divisions, WestGrid works closely with 15 partner institutions across British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Many of these institutions house WestGrid computing or data storage resources and employ technical staff to assist with WestGrid user support and infrastructure operations across the Compute Canada national platform. Collaboration facilities at these partner institutions are also used to deliver WestGrid Seminar Series and Coast to Coast Seminar Series sessions. 

A complete listing of WestGrid partners can be found here.

Before you can get an account at a regional HPC consortium, you must first sumbit a request for a Compute Canada Database (CCDB) account. Detailed instructions can be found on our Registering with the CCDB page.  

Once you have your CCDB login name and password, you can login to the CCDB website, click on "My Account" from the main navigation bar and from the dropdown menu that appears, select "Apply for a consortium account". There, you will find a list of the consortia with links to click on to get an account at that consortium. If you have any questions or difficulties finding this page, please contact accounts@computecanada.ca.

There is currently no charge for routine use of the WestGrid facilities by Canadian researchers or those collaborating on Canadian research projects. Charges may apply for backup tapes, or specialized software requests.

WestGrid recognizes the value of collaboration with industry and can accommodate commercial use of our services and resources for a fee (to be negotiated on a case-by-case basis).

For more information, or if you have additional questions, please contact info@westgrid.ca.