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Computing Requirements

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This page discusses high-level computing requirements and prerequisites for implementing GMOD components at your organization. Requirements for specific components can be found on each component's page.


GMOD Systems Administrator

The key to any successful computing infrastructure is a good systems administrator. System administration is primarily concerned with setting up systems and keeping them going; the job involves some programming, but that is not its primary focus. The sysadmin is responsible for setting up the computer systems, installing software, performing updates and routine maintenance, and dealing with crises.

At larger organizations, such as university departments or companies, there may be a department who take care of computer support who will take care of installing software on public servers, setting up databases, and so on; at minimum, they will be able to provide help and advice with issues like network support, even if they leave the software installation to you. It may not be necessary to have a full-time sysadmin, but there should be someone on staff with time and expertise to deal with any computer-related issues that may arise.

Qualifications and Hiring

The following section lays down some of the important skills that a systems administrator dealing with GMOD software would be expected to have. In addition, we recommend having one of your computing support staff interview your candidates. They are best suited to determine if a candidate has the technical qualifications or not.


Installing and Configuring Software

Most GMOD software relies on well-established programming languages and technologies such as Perl, CPAN, Java, PostgreSQL, MySQL, and Apache. There are also a number of packages and systems that are specific to bioinformatics, such as BioPerl, that are required by several GMOD tools. Most operating systems have standard ways of installing these packages; your sysadmin should be familiar with how to install software and how to diagnose and fix a failed installation.


Backups

The importance of backing up is too often a lesson that is learned after a systems crash and massive data loss. Any good sysadmin--or even a minimally competent one--will hold regular backups to be a fundamental principle of life itself. Backups should be started very early, and should be performed on a daily basis; they should also be regularly checked to ensure that the system can be restored from the backups. The belief in the importance of backups is more important than the technical knowledge of how to do them, which can be learned.

Some painfully-learned advice: if you do not have a protocol to follow, document the steps involved in setting up software, and make a backup when you have the system working.


Finding and Fixing Problems

Computers are complex systems and diagnosing problems is part science and part art. An ideal sysadmin will have experience with this. They may not know the specifics of the technologies used by GMOD, but they will have had enough experience to know, for example, that many technologies support debuggers and logging, two things that are enormously helpful when investigating problems.


Communication

Your sys admin needs good written and oral communication skills. They will need to work with at least these communities:

  • Biologists, inside and probably outside your organization
  • Your organization's computing support staff
  • GMOD community
  • Their successor

Depending on the candidate's background (see Credentials), communicating with biologists may prove the most challenging for them. You want someone who is patient by nature, and who won't treat biologists with contempt because they don't know (or care) about the finer points of some technology. Ask a candidate to explain a technical point to you and see how they respond.

The last community, "the successor," emphasizes that whoever you hire may not have the job for the entire time your project exists. They should be willing to document things that would be useful to whoever follows them in the job. This includes things like where software and data is on the file system, how backups are done, and what special tweaks had to be done to get things to work.

A good candidate will believe in the value of documentation, and will write and maintain it.


Credentials and Professionalism

Does a sysadmin need a degree in Computer Science? No.

Does a sysadmin need to at least be a Computer Science student? No.

What a candidate needs is some experience maintaining systems, an ability to learn, and a professional attitude.

What does a professional attitude mean in this context?

  • They should be willing to tell you when choices being made can compromise the project. For example:
    • Yes, we can do that, but it means our backups won't work for the next week. Or,
    • Yes, I can do that now, but it means I won't be able to document the installation I just did until next week and by then I may have forgotten a lot.
  • They will tell you when things aren't going well, or when they have messed up.
  • They treat everyone with respect, including people in your group, any users your project may have, your organization's sys admins, and the larger GMOD community.


Hardware and Software

Hardware

This is somewhat dependent on the type of resource that you are setting up, and who will be using it. Most mid- to high-end computers can be used as a server; such a machine could easily be set up to run GBrowse or JBrowse, a Chado database, a Galaxy server, and other web- or intranet-based services for a small research group. If you are going to be the only one using the tools, a laptop can easily be set up to run a server that can run a genome browser or a database. If you are anticipating large amounts of traffic, you will want to invest in dedicated infrastructure such as rackmount servers and load balancing software. In addition, there should be capacity for data and systems backups on some medium.

Cloud computing resources are fast-emerging as a viable alternative to in-house hardware. Whilst the software will still have to be installed and set up, the computing resources (storage space, processing power, input/output rates) can be adjusted as required, and much of the hassle and worry of maintaining expensive computer hardware is eliminated. Wormbase serve all their web resources from the cloud, and GMOD in the Cloud is a great way to get started with GMOD software without the bother of installation. Cost-wise, cloud computing compares very favourably to hosting your own hardware, and in terms of flexibility, it cannot be beaten.


Operating System

Operating system (OS) choice is the first decision you will make about your computing platform and it impacts all subsequent decisions. The intention here is not to start a debate on what rules or what stinks, but rather to advise you on the choice of OS that will make your life easiest.

Note that the following discussion refers to the operating system used on the machine serving the GMOD software; the operating system you use on your personal computer is less important.

A discussion of the pros and cons of using different operating systems in GMOD follows.


Unix, Linux, and Mac OS

The Unix operating system has been around since the 1970s. Linux is a variant of Unix that has become very popular in the last decade. Mac OS is a Unix variant with the MacOS GUI on top of it.

Note: People use the term Unix to mean slightly different things. Sometimes they include Linux and/or MacOS and sometimes they don't. All definitions of Unix include Unix variants that are not Linux or Mac OS.

Linux 
Linux is the default operating system for GMOD and you are strongly encouraged to use Linux for your GMOD implementation.
Most tools are developed on and for Linux operating systems, and many GMOD implementations use Linux as their operating system. If you need help with something and you are running on Linux, then the majority of the GMOD community can potentially help you with your problem. This is much less true if you are running on a different operating system.
Which Linux? 
The official Linux distributions of GMOD are CentOS and Ubuntu. CentOS is a Linux variant based on Red Hat Enterprise Server. Ubuntu is based on Debian branch of Linux. However, many other Linux variants are compatible with GMOD.
If you don't already have Linux up and running then you are encouraged to pick CentOS or Ubuntu, and if you are new to Linux, you will likely find Ubuntu easier to use. If you already have another version of Linux running and you don't want to switch then you can probably use that distribution without problems.
Mac OS 
Mac OS from Apple is also a Unix based operating system. Mac OS, however, is not a Linux variant. Mac OS is built on the FreeBSD version of Unix. Because of its different roots, the difference between MacOS and a typical Linux distribution is greater than the difference between any two Linux distributions. If you run GMOD on Apples, you will need to do more work to set things up then if you were running on Linux.
Other Unix 
This category covers any non-Linux, non-Mac OS version of Unix. This includes operating systems like Solaris, HP-UX, AIX, FreeBSD, and a multitude of others as well. These systems are all Unix based but are not Linux based. As such, implementing GMOD on these systems can be done, but it will involve additional work, in the same way that MacOS involves more work than Linux.

Windows

While Mac OS and other Unix operating systems are fairly close to Linux, Microsoft Windows is not. Windows is based on an entirely different code base and set of principles than are Unix-based systems, to avoid errors - optimize windows XP. There are users that run GMOD components on Windows machines, but there are relatively few of them. Running GMOD on Windows means significantly more work up front and greatly reduces the part of the GMOD community that can help you if you encounter problems.

Other Software

Different GMOD components require different software to support them. Some require Perl or Java support, a database management system, a web server (such as Apache), or any number of other things. See each component for their specific software requirements.