Research PortalRAC – Frequently Asked Questions

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If you have questions about the terminology, please consult our Technical Glossary.

For more information on our resource competition process, please refer to these Frequently Asked Questions or send questions to rac@computecanada.ca

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RESOURCE ALLOCATION COMPETITION (RAC) FAQs

1. Why does the Compute Canada Federation need to allocate its resources?

The advanced research computing (ARC) needs of the Canadian research community continues to grow as the next generation of scientific instruments is deployed, as ARC becomes relevant to answering key questions in an ever broader list of disciplines, as new datasets are gathered and mined in innovative ways, and as technological advances allow researchers to construct ever more precise models of the world around us. The current CC infrastructure must keep pace with the needs of Canadian researchers. Demand for resources has grown each year and our systems are currently running at maximum capacity.

2. Who is eligible to use the resources provided?

To be eligible to submit an application to any of the Resource Allocation Competitions, Principal Investigators (PI) and co-PIs must:

1. be a faculty member at a Canadian academic institution;
2. be eligible to apply for funding from a Canadian granting agency;
3. have an active Compute Canada Federation account with one of the following roles: Faculty, Adjunct Faculty or Librarian.

Important:
You must apply with your primary, most up-to-date position. If you recently moved to a different institution and you have not yet applied for a new faculty role on the CCDB, please do so before submitting your RAC application.

If you have more than one active faculty role on the CCDB, please make sure that your most up-to-date position is set as your primary role. On the CCDB, go to the your My account → Account Details page to see which of your roles is currently set as primary and, if needed, click on the Make this role primary button next to the new role that you want to set as primary.

3. What are the Resource Allocation Competitions (RAC)?

We established our annual Resource Allocation Competitions (RAC) in response to the Canada Foundation for Innovation’s (CFI) requirement to award advanced research computing (ARC) resources based on the scientific merits of the research proposed. In addition to this requirement, we must evaluate the technical merits of allocation requests.

To meet these two requirements, RAC involves two review processes each year:

  • a scientific review, which is a peer-review process involving more than 80 discipline-specific experts from Canadian academic institutions. These volunteers assess and rate the merits of the computational research projects submitted. The scientific review results in a single score that provides a critical and objective measure to guide allocation decisions; and
  • a technical review that is undertaken by Compute Canada Federation (CCF) staff who are responsible for verifying the accuracy of the computational resources needed for each project based on the technical requirements outlined in the application and for making recommendations about the national system to which the resources should be allocated to meet the project’s needs.

The overall process is overseen by the RAC Administrative committee, which includes representatives from each of the national system host sites.

Learn more about our Resource Allocation Competitions.

4. Is there any funding available through the Resource Allocation Competitions?

No, we are not a funding agency. Through our Resource Allocation Competitions, we offer access to computing time, storage space, and cloud resources in our systems.

5. What is the Fast Track process?

This application process gives eligible PIs access to an easy and lightweight multi-year application mechanism for the Resources for Research Group (RRG) competition. Only those PIs that receive an invitation will be able to apply through this process.

In certain situations, there are researchers and small groups who wish to maintain their existing allocation with no change to the scientific approach or minimal to no changes to the amount of resources needed. To reduce the need to re-evaluate these proposals, we created a “Fast Track” process. Eligible PIs receive an invitation to fast track.

Applying through the Fast Track process DOES NOT guarantee you will receive the same allocation as last year. Fast Track requests are subject to resource scaling. This could lead to either an increase or a decrease in allocated resources for your project compared to last year.

Requested allocations may be scaled by a different factor than it was last year, according to resource demand and availability constraints.

To know more about eligibility for this process and other details about the Fast Track process, visit this page.

6. What type of resources are available for researchers to access through these resource competitions?

We provide a broad spectrum of advanced computing services in support of research, including technical support, training and application. In this call for proposals, you will be able to request access to:

  • General Purpose Systems
  • Large shared memory systems
  • General-purpose computing on graphics processing units (GPU)
  • Storage
  • Cloud

See more information on the available resources for RAC page.

7. What kind of technical support is available with an allocation?

Our team of experts is available to assist researchers in making use of their allocations. Please email support@computecanada.ca

Support may include installing and configuring software packages, assistance in code optimization, and detailed advice on how to solve technical issues. While the Compute Canada Federation team member may end up writing some code for your group, your allocation does not entitle you to deep “embedded” programming support. As a rule of thumb, our staff will help solve problems requiring a few days of their effort, not a few months of their effort.

8. Should I consult with you before submitting my competition application(s)?

Yes. It is strongly recommended that all applicants consult with technical staff responsible for the systems they intend to use. This ensures the technical aspects of the proposals match well with the requested systems, to the PI’s benefit. PIs who have not previously used our systems should discuss their proposal with technical staff before submission.

All consultations with staff should take place in advance of completing your proposal, to allow time for discussion or revisions if needed. If you do not know the appropriate technical staff to contact, please email rac@computecanada.ca.

9. How do I apply to the competitions?

Any researcher interested in applying to the Resources for Research Groups (RRG) or Research Platforms and Proposals (RPP) competitions must be registered with the Compute Canada DataBase (CCDB). Instructions for registering with the CCDB can be found here. All applications must be submitted electronically through the CCDB’s Resource Applications section.

10. Can a researcher apply to both the Resources for Research Groups (RRG) and the Research Platforms and Portals (RPP) Competitions?

Yes. A PI can apply as a lead submitter for only one RRG application but can be involved in multiple RRG submissions as a participant. PIs may simultaneously hold lead positions on one or several RPP projects and one RRG project.

RRG Competition Guide
RPP Competition Guide

Prior to submitting a proposal, you should review each competition’s criteria to ensure your project aligns with the focus. If after reviewing the competition guides you still have questions or concerns, please email rac@computecanada.ca.

11. Is the Canadian Common CV (CCV) required to apply for resources?

Yes. PIs and all co-PIs of a RAC application are required to submit a CCV. Integrating CCV into the Compute Canada DataBase (CCDB) makes it easier for applicants to upload their CVs and standardize their format. It also helps the expert review committees evaluate the quality of each project’s research team.

For instructions on how to submit a CCV, read the Compute Canada CCV Submission Guide.

Co-PIs participating in a RAC application must upload their CCV in the View Reporting page under the My Account menu on CCDB: Resource Allocation Competitions only grant access to Advanced Research Computing (ARC) infrastructure. If you have questions about whether the infrastructure you are using is part of the national platform, please contact us at rac@computecanada.ca.

12. I don’t recognize some of the acronyms or terms used in the CCDB application template. Is there a glossary available?

Yes. A list of key terms used in the competition and application process is available in our Technical Glossary.

13. Am I at a disadvantage if my project proposal doesn’t rely on, or only partly overlaps with, existing infrastructure?

Our Resource Allocation Competitions only grant access to Advanced Research Computing (ARC) infrastructure. If you have questions about whether the infrastructure you are using is part of the national platform, please contact us at rac@computecanada.ca.

14. My research team is small and we do not have much funding, can I still apply to the Resource Allocation Competitions?

Yes. Any eligible researcher (see Question 2) can apply for an allocation, irrespective of the size of the research team or the funding received.

15. Can the deadlines for final submissions be extended?

No. The published deadline for submitting final applications to the Resources for Research Groups (RRG) and Research Platforms and Portals (RPP) competitions is a final deadline. There will be no extensions and late submissions will not be accepted. Any concerns with this policy may be directed to rac@computecanada.ca.

16. When will I know if my application is successful?

All applicants will be notified of their competition results in March. You will be contacted by email with any additional information you may need or action items required of you to finalize your allocation. Once all recipients have been privately notified, we will publish a list of recipients, project allocation amounts, and allocation values on our website.

17. How is the value of the RAC allocations calculated?

It is possible to assign a monetary value to each allocation. This is useful for researchers to assign an in-kind value of the contribution of the CCF to their research program (please note: this in-kind valuation cannot be used as match for a CFI award). These values represent an average across all of our facilities and include the total capital and operational costs incurred by the CCF to deliver the resources and associated services. These are not commercial or market values.

The table below shows the monetary value associated with CCF resources.

Financial value of the resources awarded 2020-2021
1 core year $121.34
1 GPU year $2,435.89
1 TB of project storage / year $54.96
1 TB of project nearline / year $25.66
1 VCPU year $80.93
1 TB of cloud storage (Ceph) / year $117.70
18. When will I receive my allocation(s)?

All successful allocations are activated in the Spring. The exact starting date will be confirmed in your notification letter.

19. When I am given a resource allocation for computation in core-years, what does that mean?

It means that you will be given priority on a shared Compute Canada system. If you make use of that priority by submitting a steady load of computational “jobs” throughout the year, you should get at least the level of core-years you have been allocated. This is something known as a “fair-share” system, not a “dedicated use” system. If your workload is not steady, but will rather come as a burst during a certain time of year, you are asked to note this in your application and we will attempt to accommodate your workflow.

For more details about compute allocations and resource scheduling please visit this page.

20. Even though I explained how a reduction in my requested allocation would impact my research, why was my final allocation less than my request?

Each year, our infrastructure is heavily oversubscribed.

A scaling function, endorsed by the Chairs of the Expert Review Committees, is applied to compute requests to provide a means by which decisions on RAC allocations in a context of insufficient capacity can be made. For RAC 2020, this function was set so that only applications with a science score of 2.5 or higher received an allocation.

Visit the 2020 Resource Allocations Competition Results page for more details.

21. If I use my total allocation and it was not sufficient for my needs, can I get access to more resources?

Any user can access modest quantities of compute, storage and cloud resources through our Rapid Access Service. Unlike the RAC, the Rapid Access Service is not a guaranteed allocation of certain computational resources. It is a shared pool of unallocated resources.

For compute allocations, generally speaking, we allocate our batch processing priority based on a fair-share algorithm. Each user is allocated a share of the total system resources, which effectively translates into priority access to the system. If you have used a large fraction of the system recently (ie. larger than your fair-share), your priority drops. However, the scheduling system has a limited time window over which it calculates priority. After some time (e.g., weeks) of reduced usage, it gradually “forgets” that you overused in the past. This is designed to ensure full system usage and not to penalize users who take advantage of idle compute resources. A consequence is that your total allocation is not a limit on how many compute resources you can consume. Rather, your total allocation represents what you should be able to get over the course of the year if you submit a constant workload to the system and it is fully busy. In other words, once your “total allocation” is used, just keep working.

For more details about compute allocations and resource scheduling please visit this page.

22. Do currently supported RAC allocations get priority when future allocations are decided?

Each annual Resource Allocation Competition (RAC) is handled as a separate process. The current projects have an advantage in that they have demonstrated usage and success stories, but not an advantage by policy.

23. What is the role of the Expert Review Committees?

All applications submitted to the RAC are peer-reviewed and scored.

Applicants can select a peer-review committee of their choosing; however, we reserve the right to move the application to a different committee following consultation with the committee Chairs. Applications will be reviewed in one of the committees below:

  • Astronomy, Astrophysics and Cosmology
  • Bioinformatics
  • Chemistry, Biochemistry and Biophysics
  • Computer Sciences and Mathematics
  • Engineering
  • Environmental and Earth Sciences
  • Humanities and Social Sciences
  • Nano, Materials and Condensed Matter
  • Neurosciences, Medical Imaging and Medical Physics
  • Subatomic Physics, Nuclear Physics and Space Physics

Scientific reviewers are required to sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement and accept the Conflict of Interest Policy prior to accessing any RAC application.

24. Am I able to choose which Expert Review Committee reviews my proposal?

Yes, applicants may choose the scientific committee they would like to review their proposals; however, we reserve the right to assign the proposal to another committee if necessary.

25. What is the role of the Resource Allocation Competition (RAC) Administrative Committee?

The RAC Administrative Committee implements the competition policies, oversees the entire competition process and provides technical and administrative support to the Expert Review Committees. While the expert review committees determine the merit of the proposal and the appropriate resource allocation, the RAC Administrative Committee is responsible for making those allocations “fit” on existing Compute Canada resources.

This may involve applying a scaling to all allocations, which is endorsed by the Chairs of the Expert Review Committees, but that scaling will be based on the science score not an evaluation by the RAC Administrative Committee. This RAC Administrative Committee is composed of individuals who are knowledgeable of Compute Canada resources and are significantly experienced in the RAC process. It is comprised of technical and administrative leaders representing each region (WestGrid, Compute Ontario, Calcul Québec, and ACENET).

26. My research program has been already evaluated and funded by a granting agency. Why are you evaluating the science of my research program again?

RAC is guided by the following principles:

  1. all applications are given fair consideration through both a scientific and technical review process;
  2. resources are awarded based on the merits of the computational research project presented, rather than the merits of the overall research program;
  3. there is no direct correlation between the amount of computational resources needed and the quality (excellence) of the research outcomes of a project – important research can be done with a small amount of computational resources; and
  4. the challenges arising from the shortage of resources and other constraints within the system are shared among all applicants.

The resulting RAC score is based on the following:

  1. the scientific excellence of the specific research project for which computational resources are being requested;
  2. the scientific and technical feasibility of the proposed research project;
  3. the appropriateness of the resources requested to achieve the project’s objectives; and
  4. the likelihood that the resources requested will be efficiently used.

In short, RAC does not re-evaluate a researcher’s complete research program: instead, it focuses on the scientific and technical merits of the specific computational project for which ARC resources are requested.

27. Why has the size of annual RAC requests increased each year?

The growing demand for CCF resources is reflective of global trends of increased data-intensive research. Within Canada’s research community, we are seeing computational tools and services increasingly being used to identify patterns, undertake modelling and simulations, and support the collection and distribution of massive volumes of data. The following table illustrates well the difficulty of the CCF to satisfy the needs of the researchers.

Year Supply: Allocatable CPU Core Years  Need: Total Core Years Requested Provided: Total Core Years Allocated Shortfall Capacity Core Years % of the Demand Awarded
2020 232,704 455,892 181,502 274,390 40%
2019 201,320 390,352 157,262 233,089 40.3%
2018 211,020 287,957 158,632 129,325 55.1%
2017 182,760 255,63 148,10 107,538 57.9%
2016 155,952 237,862 128,463 109,399 54.0%
2015 161,888 191,690 123,699 67,991 64.5%
2014 190,466 172,989 133,508 39,481 77.2%
2013 187,227 142,106 126,677 15, 429 89.1%
2012 189, 024 103, 845 87, 312 16, 533 84.1%

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RESOURCES FOR RESEARCH GROUPS (RRG) COMPETITION FAQs

1. What is the Resources for Research Groups (RRG) Competition?

The Resources for Research Groups (RRG) Competition was created to enable faculty members, and their sponsored research groups, to access compute and storage resources beyond what can be obtained via the Rapid Access Service. Allocations are awarded based on scientific merit of the proposal and quality of applicants (PI and co-PIs). This competition is peer-reviewed and the allocations are available for one (1) year starting in the Spring.

2. Who should apply to the Resources for Research Groups (RRG) competition?

Intended for faculty members from all disciplines and their sponsored users. Allocations awarded are typically available for one (1) year.

A Fast Track process allows eligible RRG awardees to apply through the submission of a lightweight progress report.

PIs can only submit one RRG (or Fast Track) application per competition round. However, a PI may apply for both the RRG and RPP competitions and therefore hold an RRG award and an RPP award simultaneously.

No one may be the PI on more than one RRG application, but a PI can be a participant (co-PI) in other submissions, and various sub-projects may be included within a single RRG application. There is, however, a single award for the main RRG project, and it is the PI’s responsibility to monitor usage and progress of the sub-projects.

Visit the RRG application guide for more details about this competition.

3. What should I do if I need less than the minimum amount of resources allowed to submit an RRG application?

If you require resources which are less than the minimum required to apply for the RAC competitions, you do not need to submit an RRG application. Instead, you should make use of Compute Canada’s Rapid Access Service, which allows any Compute Canada user to access modest quantities of compute, storage and cloud resources after they register for an account.  Opportunistic access to compute resources is also possible through RAS, but priority is only given to those with an allocation.

Many research groups can meet their needs through RAS only. Visit our Accessing Resources page for more details.

4. Can a researcher submit more than one application to the Resources for Research Groups (RRG) competition?

No. While Principal investigators (PIs) can participate as collaborators on other projects submitting RRG proposals, they can only be the lead applicant for one RRG application.

5. Do I need to apply to the RRG again this year even if I received an RRG allocation last year?

If you are eligible to Fast Track, you can either accept the invitation to Fast Track or decline and submit a new RRG application. You should accept the invitation to Fast Track if your needs for resources will remain the same, knowing that all allocations are still subject to scaling based on supply and demand and on the amount of resources requested in your previous RRG full application.

If you need more resources than what you currently have allocated (especially compute or cloud), then you should submit a new application.

6. Do I need to submit a Notice of Intent (NOI) to apply to the RRG?

No. To apply for the RRG, you simply need to complete an application form in the Compute Canada DataBase (CCDB). The RRG Competition announces its formal Call for Submissions in the early Fall with final submissions due in November.

7. Is every application to the Resources for Research Groups (RRG) Competition accepted?

No. Due to the imbalance of demand versus available resources, the RRG has increasingly become a more competitive process.

2020 RAC Applications – Submitted vs. Granted

RAC 2019 Applications Submitted Allocations Granted
CPU 499 489
GPU 128 113
Project Storage 336 322
8. How are the Resources for Research Groups (RRG) applications evaluated?

The evaluation criteria is available in the RRG application guide. We strongly encourage applicants to read it carefully.

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RESEARCH PLATFORMS AND PORTALS (RPP) COMPETITION FAQs

1. What is the Resource Platforms and Portals (RPP) Competition and how is it different from the Resources for Research Groups (RRG) Competition?

The RPP competition is aimed at the development of scientific gateways. A Research Platform or Portal is a set of community-developed tools, applications, and data that are integrated via a gateway or a suite of applications, usually in a graphical user interface, that is customized to meet the needs of a specific community. Platforms and portals enable entire communities of users associated with a common discipline to use national resources through a common interface. RPP allocations can be awarded for a maximum of 3 years, but allocations are provided one year at a time from April to March.

Visit the RPP application guide for more details about this competition.

2. Who should apply to the Research Platforms and Portals (RPP) Competition?

This competition is open to researchers based at Canadian academic institutions who are eligible to apply for funding to the federal granting agencies.

Projects applying for the RPP Competition must also:

  1. Provide resources to a larger research community via a set of cloud-based tools, applications, and/or data, thus enabling them to access national resources via a common interface.
  2. Be able to develop, operate and manage the proposed portal or platform with minimal support from the Compute Canada Federation.

Generally, an RPP project will involve cloud resources, usually through the development of a front-end gateway on persistent virtual machines, with possible backend compute either through cloud compute nodes or job-based submission to the large national clusters. Additionally, many platforms and portals include large databases.

Applicants for RPPs are expected to have sufficient experience within their team to develop, manage and operate their platform or portal. We provide support to RPP teams on a best-effort basis.

3. Can researchers submit more than one RPP application?

Yes. PIs are allowed to submit more than one RPP application per competition round, and may simultaneously hold an RRG award, as long as each application is for a different project.

4. Do I need to submit a Notice of Intent (NOI) to apply to the RPP Competition?

No. The NOI is no longer required for the RPP competition.

5. If I receive a multi-year allocation, do I have to submit a full application every year to renew it?

No. RPP projects that are awarded multi-year allocations are required to submit an annual progress report; however, they do not need to submit a new application each year to renew. This annual progress report must be uploaded directly on CCDB. For more information on what is required for the RPP Progress Report, click here.

6. If I have a one-year RPP allocation and want to keep it for next year, do I have to submit a new application?

Yes. Only those projects that requested and were awarded resources for more 2 or 3 years will be exempted from re-applying. Please consult the RPP Competition Guide for further details.

7. How are the RPP applications evaluated?

The evaluation criteria is available in the RPP application guide. We strongly encourage applicants to read it carefully.

8. What information do I need to provide in the RPP annual progress report?
Please visit the RPP Annual Progress Report page for details.

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ALLOCATION FAQs

1. What does the term 'allocation' mean?

A compute allocation corresponds to a target for use over a period of time, usually a year. For storage, and for certain cloud resources, this is a maximum amount. Allocations are usually made in terms of core years, GPU years, or storage space.

Storage allocations are the most straightforward to understand: research groups will get a maximum amount of storage that they can use exclusively throughout the allocation period.

Core year and GPU year allocations are more difficult to understand because these allocations are meant to capture average use throughout the allocation period—typically meant to be a year—and this use will occur across a set of resources shared with other research groups. To know more about compute allocations, click here.

2. What is a core-year?

One core-year is the equivalent of using one CPU core continuously for a full year. Using 12 cores for a month, or 365 cores for a single day are both equivalent to 1 core-year. Definitions for other technical terms can be found in the Technical Glossary.

3. How was my proposal's overall score determined?

The score is determined following the evaluation criteria described in the RRG and RPP application guides.

The resulting RAC score is based on the following:

  • the scientific excellence of the specific research project for which computational resources are being requested;
  • the scientific and technical feasibility of the proposed research project;
  • the appropriateness of the resources requested to achieve the project’s objectives; and
  • the likelihood that the resources requested will be efficiently used.
4. When will I receive my allocation(s)?

All successful allocations are activated in April. The exact starting date will be confirmed in your notification letter.

5. Is my compute allocation guaranteed?

No. Use of your total allocation cannot be fully guaranteed and is contingent to the availability of our systems. You should receive the full allocation listed above if you run in a reasonably constant manner over the year. If you expect to have an uneven workload, please contact our support team at support@computecanada.ca so that they can ensure you have access to the resources you require.

6. If I use my total allocation and it was not sufficient for my needs, can I get access to more resources?

PIs can access modest quantities of storage and cloud resources through our Rapid Access Service. Compute resources are also available for opportunistic use without priority.

For compute allocations, generally speaking, we allocate our batch processing priority based on a fair-share algorithm. Each user is allocated a share of the total system resources, which effectively translates into priority access to the system. If you have used a large fraction of the system recently (ie. larger than your fair-share), your priority drops. However, the scheduling system has a limited time window over which it calculates priority. To know more about compute allocations and scheduling, click here.

7. Do existing RAC allocations get priority when future allocations are decided?

Each annual Resource Allocation Competition (RAC) is handled as a separate process. The current projects have an advantage in that they have demonstrated usage and success stories, but not an advantage by policy.

8. Can I use the resources without an allocation?

Yes. Please visit the Accessing Resources page for more details.

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