The LRZ Advisory Board: Scientists support the compute centre


The LRZ Advisory Board advises the Directorate, but is above all a lively network of contacts in all areas of research and stimulates projects. Photo: Alina Grubnyak/Unsplash

Supervision and stimulation - within the advisory board of the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) both aspects come together. "Various interest groups are represented here," says Prof. Dr Arndt Bode, Advisory Board member, until 2017 Director of the LRZ, also Chair of Computer Technology and Organisation and Vice President at the Technical University of Munich (TUM). "The representatives from the Bavarian Academy of Sciences and Humanities tend to perform general supervisory duties, the others advise the directorate on aspects of IT technology and services." This year, the academic computing centre, an institute of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences and Humanities (BADW), also the digitisation partner for universities and research institutes as well as a supercomputing centre, celebrates its 60th birthday: an opportunity to take a look at the organisation and above all its history.

Staying in dialogue with researchers

30 professors make up the LRZ Advisory Board; they are appointed or elected to the board for five years. Four members are appointed by the BADW and five by the Munich universities. In addition, Prof. Dr. Gerhard Wellein from the Friedrich-Alexander Universität of Erlangen-Nürnberg represents currently the Bavarian universities. In addition, the Chairman of the Board of Directors, Prof. Dr. Dieter Kranzlmüller, is a member of the advisory board. And these 16 advisory board members elect another 10 scientists to the board, that's just completed by four honorary advisors. "For Munich's universities, the LRZ plays a central role as an IT service provider. In some institutes, there are no longer any stand-alone computers at all, but clients that are connected to and maintained by the LRZ," explains advisory board member and computer scientist Prof. Dr. Martin Wirsing, former vice-president of Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität (LMU). "In addition, computer technology and thus the operation of computers is developing so quickly, the directorate and the LRZ must remain in dialogue with researchers and teachers." The advisory board includes professors such as Ralf Ludwig (LMU), Hans-Peter Bunge (LMU), Hans-Joachim Bungartz (TUM) and Daniel Rückert (TUM) who work in data-intensive research disciplines in the life and earth sciences or in scientific computing and simulations and therefore regularly make use of the LRZ's high-performance and supercomputers. Advisory board members such as Wirsing or Dr Sigmund Stinzing, currently vice-president of the LMU, represent the lecturers and those users who are driving the digitisation of universities and need IT services to do so. Finally, Prof. Dr. Stefan Dech from the German Aerospace Centre (DLR) is a partner of the LRZ with whom the computing centre operates the high-performance data analytics platform terrabyte or the analysis of satellite data.

In the history of the LRZ, the advisory board is a rather young body, but it can be traced back to the founding days in 1962. "The advisory board was introduced after a change in the statutes in 2016 and emerged from the “Kommission für Informatik," recounts Dr Heinz-Gerd Hegering, professor emeritus at LMU, former director of the LRZ and its dedicated chronicler. "Organisationally, this restructuring was intended to separate the executive, the directorate, from its supervision."

The advisory board replaced the “Kommission für Informatik” that met for the first time on 5 March 1962 and which, in addition to 12 scientists, included the founders of the LRZ, the mathematician Robert Sauer and the electrical engineer Hans Piloty. The task: to realise the computer centre that had been planned since 1960. The fact that this committee, which appointed the LRZ's directorate, changed its name again and again shows the change in function and history of technology: In the days of the TR4, the first German mainframe computer from Telefunken with around 170 kilobytes of core or working memory, "electronic computing" was the focus at the LRZ. In 1975 - researchers were computing on the R440 with 800,000 operations per core - "information processing" was important: "The LRZ has a dual-processor TR440," it says in the BADW yearbook at the time, "but it can at most cover a third of the current computing needs in the Munich university sector." Fifteen years later, the LRZ has advanced to a high-performance computing centre, in Barer Straße there are universal cyber systems from Control Data Corporation, which users can access remotely, and the “Kommission” is now called "Informatik" in. In 2006 the LRZ becomes a national supercomputing centre, ten years later it modernises its organisation and the rules of procedure and the “Kommission für Informatik” becomes the Advisory Board.

Exchange among professors and research topics for the LRZ

The advisory board has similar functions to the supervisory board of a public limited company. While there are always reports from the business world of disputes between board members and supervisors, the advisory board and directorate discuss IT services, developments in computer technology, interesting research projects or personnel matters at least once a year. The directors of the LRZ are appointed from among the members of the advisory board, and its management is appointed together with the BADW. "So far it has never happened that the advisory board did not find a development reasonable," recalls Bode, who has been on the commission and advisory board since 1994 after all. "That is probably because it is very close to the real use of LRZ's technical resources." In addition, the advisory board members see themselves not only as control bodies, but much rather as networkers in all areas of science and as idea generators. "It's more exciting to support research and attract it to the LRZ," says Wirsing. His personal contacts brought the project "Learning with Digital Contemporary Witnesses" (LediZ) in-house. For this, conversations with Holocaust survivors were recorded and digitised, so that now holograms tell impressively about (surviving) life in the Nazi era. "LediZ is a wonderful project after all," Wirsing continues, "which shows that the LRZ can help not only the natural and life sciences, but also the humanities."

New requirements in research confront the LRZ with additional needs. This changes bodies like the advisory board: "You would need four, if not more controllers to replace the work of the voluntary advisory board members," says Bode. "The LRZ's services have been modified, its Dienstleistungskatalog expanded, and today topics such as future and quantum computing are on the agenda or the work in the European network. Research thrives on technical innovations, so an advisory board is a prerequisite for remaining application-oriented in the future." Wirsing also relies on dialogue between users and data centres. He predicts that the advisory board will open up to artificial intelligence and its methods, especially through technology. "In the future, we will devote more attention to the processing, use and storage of data," says the computer scientist. "Algorithms, machine and deep learning - these are topics that are now reaching the humanities, social sciences and cultural studies. This will further differentiate and push the spectrum of the LRZ Advisory Board." (vs)