Innovation Heroes: Meet the team that makes a supercomputer super
Big data, AI, and people skills – this research and technology dream team needs it all, and then some

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Supercomputers used to be a scarce resource. Huge, sprawling networks of machinery, housed in university campuses, they were accessible to only a select, highly-technical few. And while consumer technology sure has changed since those early days, supercomputers still exist – and the teams running them provide an excellent model for IT leadership at its best. 

Just ask Ed McNamara, host of SHI’s podcast, Innovation Heroes. On the latest episode, he meets up with Barr von Oehsen, the person in charge of Rutgers University’s cluster of supercomputers. And while their discussion explores the world-changing research von Oehsen’s team is supporting, it was the team itself that most impressed McNamara. 

“Going in, I thought maybe the hero was going to be, you know, the supercomputer, or the supercomputing power you have at your disposal,” he says. “But I’m really getting the impression that there’s a lot of human muscle behind the scenes that keep the whole thing running.” 

Click Here to open the episode on your favorite podcast app – or click play below  

Von Oehsen agrees. As the Associate Vice President of the Office of Advanced Research Computing (OARC) at Rutgers University, his job is two-fold. For one, his team maintains and optimizes a vast network of resources and infrastructure, accessed remotely by hundreds of users, worldwide. But he says the real challenge is on the human side: Understanding what the researchers need, then showing them how his super machines can get it done. 

“So, the supercomputer, it’s a tool. It helps people be able to get work done. But, in order for a tool to be useful, it’s got to have the support, and the people, and the knowledge. And so absolutely, I would say the real heroes are the people,” von Oehsen says.  

Von Oehsen explains that this unique mix of soft and hard tech skills makes staffing his team difficult – a challenge many in IT are facing these days. 

“Being able to communicate and understand what a researcher is going through is most of the work that we do. It’s just having that ability to connect with a researcher, with the students, and really understand what they’re trying to do, and then come up with solutions.” 

 At the intersection of data and AI 

That’s not to say supercomputers aren’t completing super feats. The OARC supports researchers across a number of disciplines to unlock value and uncover breakthroughs. From astronomy, to library sciences, to dentistry, von Oehsen’s team helps scientists manage immense catalogues of data, then break it down with the most advanced forms of artificial intelligence and machine learning.  

“They’re not only interested in figuring out how to manage all that data and how to do the statistical analysis, but now they’re trying to train AI systems on all that data. And that gets really challenging on how to move the data around, how to access it,” the OARC leader says.  

On the episode, the two covered a variety of topics that are vitally important for all IT leaders and digital businesses, today. From making these computing resources reliably available to remote users across the globe, to putting AI to work, to dealing with a shortage for IT skills, this episode of Innovation Heroes touches on it all. Listen now! 

This episode of Innovation Heroes is brought to you by the Samsung Galaxy Book. Visit SHI.com/SamsungMobility to learn more.