2021-04-30-Person-to-Watch: Mohamad Hayek

They are researching future technologies, developing innovative technology or algorithms, advancing supercomputing and artificial intelligence methods: here, in loose succession, we introduce young scientists who are sure to be heard from even more: Computer scientist and engineer Mohamad Hayek works at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) on the transfer and storage of big data - for the LEXIS project he's involved in the development of a platform that enables access to research data regardless of location. This facilitates supercomputing and ensures further networking within science. Researchers can collaborate more easily.


The graphic shows the workflow that was set up for the exchange of Big Data
between the LRZ and IT4Innovation

Research data from the cloud

Access to research data from anywhere and at any time: What has long been state-of-the art for personal photos, letters and files is now being translated into the area of high-performance computing (HPC). "For modeling and simulation, significantly larger amounts of data have to be moved, and in addition, no two supercomputers are built the same way," says Mohamad Hayek, outlining fundamental challenges. "In supercomputing, data transfer is, therefore, a much more complex matter." Since 2019, Mohamad has been dedicating himself to this task at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ). To make terabytes of research data stored on servers in Garching accessible to scientists in Bavaria, Germany, Europe and - even better - worldwide, the computer specialist is developing workflows with his colleagues from Research Data Management and, in turn, interfaces, software and tools for this purpose. "I can learn a lot for my subject in the process and deal with new techniques and tools," he says. "I like that."

More relaxed research in Germany

Mohamad is well equipped for this work: He has enjoyed dealing with electronic devices and computers since he was a boy; after graduating from high school, the Lebanese native studied computer science at the American University of Beirut but switched to electrical and computer engineering after the first trimester. "I wanted to broaden my studies," he explains. "Computer science in Beirut was limited to software development." He also wasn't comfortable in the crowded classes and lectures, so in addition to software, he's exploring computer architectures and the electronic fundamentals of networks. He came to Germany for the first time for a mandatory internship, and the International Association for the Exchange of Students for Technical Experience (IAESTE) took him to the Technical University of Dresden in 2014. "People there seemed much more relaxed, much more interested in scientific questions and research," he says about the differences. "At private universities, it's constantly about results and the commercial implementation of science."

At the Chair of Construction Informatics at TU Dresden, the student from Beirut is confronted with digitization in construction, an "interesting application area for computer science and IT technology," he says. Mohamad researches industry standards, adds functions to the TU's BIMFiT software. And in the meantime, he decided to stay in Germany for his master's degree. In the time between his bachelor's degree and the start of his master studies, he took on another internship: In 2015, he dealt with tunnel construction and stone or drilling machines at TU Graz. Here he developed a program that automatically recognizes the boundaries of polygons. Like the colleagues in Dresden, those in Graz value his knowledge and enthusiasm for his work, praise his good ideas and solutions, and at the same time his pragmatism and efficiency: Hayek, they say in a certificate, "tackled all tasks with ambition and a smile on his face”. And further: He had “the stamina to research what is needed from him before initiating the modeling process”.

This is in line with what colleagues at the LRZ say about him: "Mohamad is enthusiastic and gets a lot done very quickly, he is honest and can deal wonderfully with many different people," says Dr. Stephan Hachinger, who heads the Research Data Management team at the LRZ. "He understands new systems very quickly, brings conceptual ideas to the table." Mohamad is not a loud person who is quick to pass judgment or blurt out ideas. He has a reserved demeanor, is helpful, answers questions calmly, often thoughtfully, and goes about his work in a well-planned manner. The weather in Germany takes some getting used to for him, and the beach in Beirut is often a place of longing, even though Mohamad enjoys hiking on the weekends and discovering Europe's cities while continuing to get involved with IAESTE and helping students get started in Germany.

Automate test processes

Of course, the search for a suitable university begins with thorough research, looking at international rankings and recommendations. After a solid analyses, four German universities stuck out - Aachen, Hamburg, Kaiserslautern and Munich - and the basis for the decision is laid: "I was accepted everywhere," Mohamad says, smiling briefly, "but I come from Beirut, a city of two million, compared to which Aachen and Kaiserslautern seem like villages, I probably would have had a hard time settling in there." Artificial intelligence, electronics and IT components become a focus in Munich: as a working student at Intel, Mohamad checks the functionality of modems and discovers his research topic in the process. "It was interesting to observe which components or software elements were particularly prone to malfunctions and errors and when," he explains the core of his work. Using measurement data and other test results, he devises strategies for automating device testing and trains his machine learning model: "With a proof-of-concept, I proved in the master's thesis that some test areas of modem control can be automated." Such a result usually leads to employment after passing exams but Intel wanted to sell its mobile division. So the professional career starts in 2018 at the European Advanced Networking Testcenter (EANTC) in Berlin, at a medium-sized test lab. After a good year, he returned to Munich and joined the LRZ: "Berlin is a crazy city," Mohamad says about it. "You can party well there, but work – that's difficult, exhausting. I was also looking for a company that could offer me more development opportunities."

Since then, the computer and test specialist has been involved with the exchange of research data and with the European research project LEXIS - the acronym stands for Large Scale Execution for Industry and Society. Mohamad is responsible for the technology of infrastructure for distributed data. Instead of setting this up in a centralized way, as originally planned, he proposed a federated structure - "an important idea that has proven to be the right choice," judges Hachinger. "It became central to our concept." A good two years after the start of the project the Research Data Management team at the LRZ has now developed and programmed web-based interfaces and the technical processes that run in the background, invisible to users, when Big Data is exchanged. With the help of the data management software Integrated Rule Oriented Data System (iRODS) and B2SAFE, a program from EUDAT for storing large amounts of data, a service platform has been created via which users can now access and manage data in the cloud and process it on an HPC computer of their choice. This works almost as conveniently as with LRZ Sync+Share, Google Drive or Dropbox - despite the complexity brought in by the different storage systems at hpc centres.

Internationalize and optimize the data platform

Regardless of the researcher's location, the system decides how to retrieve the data, where to store it, and whether a backup is needed in the process. In tests, around 50 Gigabyte data volume is repeatedly and successfully transferred from the LRZ's storage facilities to the Czech HPC center IT4Innovation and back again. They remained unaltered, complete, original – software and interfaces also had to be adapted for this goal. And there's more: "We're currently connecting LEXIS with the CompBioMed research project, which uses medical data to simulate processes in the human body, such as blood flow or muscle movements, or to match chemical agents for drug research," Mohamad explains. "So, we're trying to federate with HPC centers in the Netherlands, Scotland, the United Kingdom and Spain into LEXIS, and with them, other supercomputer architectures." With the experience of the scientists, the exchange platform is constantly being optimized; an international standard and service for research may grow from this.

In the meantime, Mohamad and his colleagues have presented and explained their work, including the tools for data management, to the international HPC community several times. The LEXIS project will end at the end of the year 2021. And then? Mohamad shrugs his shoulders and laughs: "Many things are possible - a PHD at the LRZ, the continuation of LEXIS with a different focus, new research tasks or even a new job: "I am very happy here, great colleagues, many challenges, and if I move, I will continue to work in the field of research and development and solve tasks like those at the LRZ," he says. "I always wanted to work in a challenging top environment. I have succeeded in doing that. Intel is world-class, and the LRZ is one of the leading internationally academic computing centers." (vs)


Mohamad Hayek at a poster presentation of the data transfer between the  hpc centres LRZ and IT4Innovations. You can see and download the poster here: https://sc20.supercomputing.org/proceedings/tech_poster/poster_files/rpost120s2-file3.pdf

More persons to watch you should know:

Sophia Grundner-Culemann, LMU, cryptography

Bengisu Elis, TUM, supercomputing and programming models

Daniëlle Schuman, LMU, quantum computing