BRC pilots Instructional Computing Allowances

Biostatistics image - human face with retina scan and computer graphics superimposed

Berkeley Research Computing (BRC) is conducting a series of pilots to provide Instructional Computing Allowances to instructors who need significant computational resources for their classes. The first of these is beginning this semester (Spring 2017). 

Classes across many departments are addressing computationally intensive techniques in research using modeling, data analysis, etc. Sometimes, students can use personal computers or departmental labs for this work, but the scale of computation and data are growing at a pace that increasingly requires something on the scale of the Savio cluster provided by BRC. As the Berkeley Data Science Education program ramps up, this is likely to become a more common challenge. The BRC Instructional Computing Allowances will help faculty to meet this challenge, and prepare students to use these research tools.

The first pilot will support graduate students in the Biomedical Big Data Training Program, led by Mark Van der Laan and Alan Hubbard, and funded by a recent NIH grant. The program will train a select group of multidisciplinary Ph.D. students at UC Berkeley -- in fields like Molecular and Cell Biology, Computer Science, and Epidemiology, among others -- in the biomedical applications of biostatistics, machine learning techniques, and Big Data tools and computing. Under the Instructional Computing Allowance, the class will have access to 200,000 core-hours of computation in Savio.

Prof. Hubbard intends that the Instructional Computing Allowance will “be used within the Spring capstone course … to give students access to Savio. The course will involve a Big Data health project, and will take them from access to data to analysis and reporting results.  We already have agreed participation from Kaiser and others to provide data and in some cases, particular research questions.

Each Instructional Computing Allowance is based upon a partnership agreement between BRC and the instructor. The agreement specifies a designated Point of Contact (POC) for the class (usually a GSI or staff member) who is familiar with high performance computing in Savio, and who provides the students with basic support for using Savio resources. BRC staff work with the POC to provision class-specific software and data in the Savio environment. This model provides Savio access to students learning computationally intensive research techniques, and ensures that BRC support staff are not overwhelmed.

The Instructional Computing Allowance pilots are prompting additional innovation within BRC, including new tools that will provide more control over the usage within an allowance; these tools will help instructors to allocate resources among students in a course, and will also benefit faculty who have a Faculty Computing Allowance. BRC will offer several summer internships (Summer 2017) in which students will help create this new functionality. 

BRC are soliciting additional Faculty partners for the Instructional Computing Allowance program - requests for an allowance can made using our request form; other questions can be sent to The pilot agreements will help refine the model, and ensure the right tools are in place for instructors and their students. When these pilots are complete, the program will be opened up more broadly.