Operationalising digitalisation - the Monash eResearch Centre

I was recruited into the newly reconstituted Monash eResearch Centre (MeRC) to provide vision and administrative know-how. In 2010 Monash University embarked on a strategic initiative to increase research performance by establishing a world-leading research environment underpinned by digital research infrastructure. During this period the University's growth in research rankings was amongst the top three globally. The centre's institutional and national activities has grown by approximately $1m per. It is now globally renown. 

eResearch is 21st century discovery through the application of advanced computing and IT. The centre partners with research groups to accelerate and transform knowledge, connecting them to the most appropriate hardware, software and services. 

In practice the centre is the trusted custodian of the Institution's computing fuel for research (processing power, enduring data & digital transformation capability). I have pioneered an operating model that achieves flat-lined expenditure and very high user satisfaction, despite a sustained 75-85% CAGR demand in consumption growth. It has over 2000 users / Chief Investigators, and these users provide for and estimated 100,000 other researchers. It is ISO9001 certified, centred primarily on operating devops shared services, alignment with the institutional ecosystem and delivering co-designed projects. 

As Deputy Director my primary roles are driving vision, direct responsibility for half the initiatives (the fabric for digital infrastructure, cloud and the research data lifecycle strategies), coaching our next generation of leaders, implementation of business-led digital governance, and our financial accountability. 

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Partnering with a national facility - th Nectar Research Cloud

Nectar was established in 2009 by the Australian Government as part of the Super Science initiative. An outcome of Nectar is the Research Cloud, a distributed research infrastructure providing Australia’s research community with fast & interactive access to computing infrastructure, software, and data. It is a powerful platform for collaboration. Its "cloud age" self-service model allows researchers to store, access, and analyse their own data at any time, create dedicated virtual servers on demand, and collaborate with others from their desktop in a fast and efficient way. 

The first era of the Research Cloud initiative has been outstandingly successful at its core remit: to accelerate the collaboration of Australian researchers. It has since grown to over 8000 concurrent instances / 50,000 concurrent virtual cores, 10 physical sites / 12 tenant organisations, and flavours tuned to both research need & effective bin-packing. Most pertinently, it has transformed over 18,000 researchers to the cloud. Key to the Research Cloud's success is the ambidextrous nature of site-specific hardware & business models (marketplace of wholesalers), and Core Services as the establishment of OpenStack best-practices and the co-operation of those best-practices. 

I successfully bid for a node to be hosted by Monash University (R@CMon) at its inception, and successfully re-bidded for its refresh. In both instances my approach has been to re-define what is technically possible. In 2013: introduce Graphics Processing Units (GPUs) and High Performance Computing (HPC) interconnects to virtualise data-centric HPC. In 2019: introduce Data Processing Units (DPUs) / SmartNICs for security everywhere. 


Established a globally renowned engineering centre

Innovation requires an innovative culture and to engage with innovative partners. 

Pioneering cloud & HPC into the data processing era

Positioned the eResearch Centre as an early adopter of Mellanox's ConnectX NICs, based on a technology (RDMA) that dominates in the HPC market, but re-cast for general computing. We produced the global first reference implementation of ConnectX for societally relevant use cases, launching at OpenStack Summit Tokyo 2015. By 2019 ConnectX is 70% of market share (for NICs above 10GbE).

Positioned team members for leadership roles in the national and international community, and developing leaders driving innovation in other sectors. Developed a global brand, for example"Nectar / Monash was first to push HPC and GPUs on OpenStack. Whereas Monash started with OpenStack and then did HPC, Cambridge has done it vice-versa" – Cambridge University, 2019 

Scaling out security and data governance to 1000s of applications

Partnered with our CISO and the Australian global start-up Bugcrowd on a crowdsourced approach to identifying vulnerabilities in our ecosystem of hundreds of advanced research-led digital systems. Introduced the business processes to scale out behaviour change in our researcher community to pro-actively participate and respond to these vulnerabilities. Case Study: Monash University Leverages bugcrowd for improved security visibility and continuous assurance, 2021.

Partnered with Nvidia and ARDC to explore the role of DPUs and AI play in cybersecurity, using the research sector as a microcosm of a connected society, to explore the transition to security everywhere, 2021. A researchers liberty to connect is limited by the amount of work that central security can perform. Distributing that work adds substantive and scalable resource to, and lowers barriers to more emergent and democratised ways to connect, lowers the need for researchers to change their software to increasing cybersecurity needs, and decreases the percentage of precious computational research (CPUs and GPUs) used for security.

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