University of Minnesota
Office of Human Resources

Implementing Cyberinfrastructure for 21st Century Research

Ann Hill Duin, associate vice president and associate chief information officer, Office of Information Technology
Bernard Gulachek, senior director, Office of Strategy Management, OIT

Overview of the Project

As a result of innovative partnerships between the Office of Information Technology, collegiate units, and other Central units, outstanding technological support systems for administrative and academic needs have been developed to serve faculty, staff and students. Central and local IT support staffs maintain servers and desktop computers to ensure availability and security of information technology tools and resources. The University’s Digital Media Center, along with academic technology support staffs in local units, provides a variety of services to instructors and students using technology in teaching and learning. .

Dramatic advances in information technology make way for exciting new opportunities for research as well. New technologies allow projects to span disciplines and institutions, enabling researchers to seek new answers to critical questions in ways that were impossible just years or even months ago. Indeed, research computing is a top priority for leading universities and research institutions around the globe; furthermore, cyberinfrastructure is seen as a key factor in securing research funding and attracting and retaining top faculty and students.

The expanded research agendas in many disciplines are now outpacing the computing resources available to individual researchers, departments, or even institutions. Enabling this research requires large-scale investments in high-performance computing, storage and networking, as well as the development of cyberinfrastructure to integrate these components into a meaningful whole.

Cyberinfrastructure includes the instruments, sensors, high performance computational systems, massive storage systems, data resources, and visualization facilities, tied together by high speed networks and made to work together by advanced software to accomplish goals that would not be possible by any single information technology system. It also includes the people, processes, training, security, policies, and capabilities to sustain the systems and networks over time. Implementing cyberinfrastructure requires a high level of coordination and collaboration between researchers and an information technology workforce with expertise in scientific computing.

Research Infrastructure Alliance (RCA)

In support of the University’s goal to become one of the top three public research universities in the world, a strategic alliance to support research cyberinfrastructure was developed in Fall 2007 with the vision of facilitating access to high-end, high quality, efficient and effective research computing systems and services, enhancing interdisciplinary research and allowing researchers to explore radically new concepts, approaches, and tools. Initial sponsors of the University’s Research Cyberinfrastructure Alliance (RCA) included the University’s Office of Information Technology (OIT), the Office of the Vice President for Research (OVPR), the University Libraries. Among the founding members were individuals from college-level research computing units, the Minnesota Supercomputing Institute, and key leaders from OIT.

As an alliance, the RCA brings key groups together to coordinate and align distributed strategic research cyberinfrastructure and related services to benefit researchers. The alliance enables researchers to work together with technologists and professionals with expertise in wide-ranging areas to plan, coordinate and conduct research projects. By leveraging resources in this manner, we improve efficiency and effectiveness, and also guide future investments in the best manner possible for the entire University community.

The RCA functions as a virtual organization of research support and information technology service providers, working to identify a portfolio of research technology resources and support services throughout the University. A key next step for the RCA is to develop strategies that enable researchers to easily find and engage with relevant research computing resources and support.

Project Goals

The primary role for the Emerging Leaders will be to work with key stakeholders (faculty, staff, students, Collegiate IT Directors, OIT staff and the RCA group) to develop a strategic approach to cyberinfrastructure that leverages partnerships across the University. We have identified the following goals for the project:

  • Investigate how research computing is currently supported at the U of MN; compare and contrast these findings with other research institutions
  • Collect information about the needs and priorities of researchers using or desiring to use research cyberinfrastructure
  • Develop an outreach process to inform researchers of cyberinfrastructure services and resources that are available
  • Identify cost factors, financial aspects of cyberinfrastructure services, and what makes the most financial sense for the University to optimize research productivity

Strategic Questions

  • What are the strengths of the University in research computing?
  • How are colleges and research centers meeting the needs of their researchers?
  • What issues are researchers dealing with in research computing?
  • What should be the University’s strategy to develop research computing resources in the next five years?
  • What are ways to forge a common cyberinfrastructure with central and distributed support? What are best practices for articulating central and distributed support? How can units across the University best work in partnership?
  • Who are key stakeholders across the campus that need be engaged to spread the vision of CI?
  • How can the University compete at the national level for cyberinfrastructure grants and resources?

Project Outcomes

As the RCA, we look forward to partnering with the PEL group to refine these goals and identify additional strategic goals for the project.

At the end of the project, the following outcomes will be among the indicators of success:

  • All faculty at the University are aware of research cyberinfrastructure resources and support services
  • Major granting agencies (NSF, NIH, etc.) are aware of the University of Minnesota’s cyberinfrastructure alliance efforts and thus increased strategic support of our researchers
  • An increased number of grant applications that take advantage of cyberinfrastructure resources and services are submitted
  • Metrics are identified and deployed to track how a coordinated, aligned research cyberinfrastructure is making an impact


  • Phase I, Assessment and Information Gathering. In this phase, project participants will survey University researchers, document local research computing resources and investigate cyberinfrastructure efforts at other institutions and at the national level.
  • Phase II, Development. Working with RCA members, project participants will use the data gathered in Phase I to identify and make recommendations for actions, projects and tools to work towards the strategic goals identified above.
  • Phase III, Implementation. If time permits, the PEL team will identify and make recommendations for initiation of pilot cyberinfrastructure projects based on the work in Phase II, and work with RCA members to develop long-term strategies and projects.


Identify project participants, hold initial team meeting. Develop project roadmap with RCA members

Phase I

Review findings with RCA members and solicit feedback

Phase II. Work with RCA subcommittees to recommend actions and projects

Phase III

Project Team

Team Members

Tracy Anderson
Junior Scientist
Imaging Center, College of Biological Sciences

Craig Gjerdingen
Applications Development Manager
OIT-Carlson School of Management

Bryan Herrmann
Senior Associate Director for Enrollment
UMM Admissions and Enrollment

Katherine Himes, PhD
Assistant to the Provost
Senior VP for Academic Affairs and Provost

Lisa Johnston
Assistant Librarian