Jason C. Christopher's picture

New BRC service making an impact at Haas School of Business

Haas School of Business MFE Program home page with Shihong Wen quotation "The AEoD platform enables us to do research more efficiently with higher memory computation power."

A cohort of students in Haas’s Masters of Financial Engineering (MFE) program have been using Analytics Environments on Demand (AEoD) to work on their Applied Finance Projects, the final projects in the MFE program. Five Applied Finance Project teams used AEoD resources, serving a total of twenty students. AEoD is a new research computing service offered by Berkeley Research Computing.

The Applied Finance Projects employ quantitative finance tools and techniques learned in the MFE program and practiced in the program’s internship. Students have the option of completing a one- or a three-credit project. The team that creates the top-ranked three-credit project receives the $5,000 Morgan Stanley Applied Finance Project Award.

The AEoD Service provided MFE student Shihong Wen and his Applied Finance Project team with computational resources to conduct their research. Each team member was provided with web-accessible, Windows-based, multi-tenant research desktops, with scalable compute power.

With AEoD, Shihong and his project group created, “a central place to aggregate large amounts of data from CRSP and Compustat, without needing to store it separately on each person’s computer.”

“The AEoD platform,” says Shihong, “let us perform time-consuming computation on the cloud without interfering with other tasks on our personal computers. Simultaneous logins helped us access the same data to perform different analyses at the same time.” Saving time on setup and computation accelerated the completion and the ultimately the success of the project, according to Shihong.

Use of AEoD facilitated Shihong’s and other students’ research at Haas, but also allowed for a transformation in the way IT is provisioned to support the Program. The AEoD Service is provided in the context of a partnership between Berkeley Research Computing and a partner organization. In short, BRC provides the backend infrastructure, Partners provide front end user support. Together, both parties work to develop and customize the service.

Aaron Nebres, a technology manager at Haas, acts as a local AEoD Partner Administrator to coordinate and support the use of AEoD at his school and in the MFE Program. He describes the use of AEoD in the MFE Program as follows:

The administration of AEoD simplifies and reinvents the way MFE distributes server resources for students.

Prior to AEOD, I had to re-purpose decommissioned servers as well as take servers out of our high frequency server pool to meet student demands. Maintaining and managing the software on each particular server was inefficient (and painstaking) as installs were done manually. The MFE director is keen on mimicking the group environments and standards of the finance industry, so it was essential to have students be able to log onto a dedicated server.

Fast-forward to the present--AEoD simplifies the server process as cloning from a base image with all the necessary software eliminates tedious installations for each respective server. In the time that it used to take to setup a physical server for one group, I am able to set up five groups using the AEoD platform.  Because the servers are virtualized within vSphere, I took advantage of the snapshots features to prep and troubleshoot software updates. User administration is as easy as dropping a username into the proper active directory security group. Also, as an added benefit, I am able to re-purpose existing servers (that particular student groups deemed unnecessary as their project needs have changed since then) to groups who have recently requested a server--having done the transition within minutes, exemplifies AEoD's ability to provide on-demand services.

Haas is preparing to expand the use of AEoD beyond the MFE Program by providing research desktops to a cohort of second year PhD students.

The success of AEoD at Haas is a testimony to the value that partnership between BRC and a school or organization can have. Beyond Haas, AEoD is at work or in consultation with with other academic domains across campus, including public policy, hydrology, sociology, social sciences (GIS), and digital humanities (OCR, Photogrammetry). AEoD’s debut in support of research and teaching took place last summer, when the service was used for a GIS training at the Digital Humanities at Berkeley Summer Institute (DHBSI).

If you are interested in exploring how Analytics Environments on Demand could work for your research or academic organization, please contact BRC Consulting.