Newswise — Kate Keahey, an Argonne computer scientist, helped popularize the use of cloud computing and cofounded a journal recognizing software’s achievements.

Kate Keahey has carved a path for herself as an innovator in the computer science field. Whether it is creating one of the first application projects popularizing the use of cloud computing or cofounding a journal that publishes software instead of scientific results, her contributions have been plentiful.  

Keahey is a computer scientist at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory and senior fellow at the University of Chicago’s Consortium for Advanced Science and Engineering. After receiving her Ph.D. in computer science from Indiana University and working at DOE’s Los Alamos National Laboratory, Keahey joined Argonne in 2001.  

“At the time, Nimbus was revolutionary. It changed what was possible for science completely. Cloud computing did not exist at that point, and it was one of the earliest infrastructures that ushered in the idea of using remote virtualized resources.” — Kate Keahey, computer scientist, Argonne National Laboratory

She joined the team of fellow Argonne computer scientist Ian Foster to work on grid computing — where computers in different locations, connected by networks into a computational grid, work together to process information. They found that using remote computing resources had great potential, but the biggest obstacle was that the resources were typically configured for their local in-person users. Remote, outside users needed a different configuration.   

This led to the creation of Nimbus, which was released for production use in 2005. Keahey led the team, developing a toolkit to convert a physical computer cluster into a remote cloud. This created a network of on-demand computing resources connected to the internet with the ability to produce scientific results faster than before.  

“At the time, it was revolutionary. It changed what was possible for science completely. Cloud computing did not exist at that point, and it was one of the earliest infrastructures that ushered in the idea of using remote virtualized resources,” explained Keahey.  

Keahey’s current project, Chameleon, is a reconfigurable, experimental platform for edge-to-cloud computing research. Edge computing is done either on-site or close to the data source for more efficiency. Funded by the National Science Foundation, Chameleon has been running since 2014 and has served a community of over 6,000 users, supporting almost 1,000 research and education projects.  

Just like how a microscope is a scientific instrument supporting research in biology, Chameleon is a scientific instrument supporting research in computer science. For example, researchers who want to compare the performance of different storage solutions are able to deploy their benchmarks on nodes configured with myriad storage options. It is an important resource for computer scientists who would otherwise not have a place to test their ideas. 

“Not every university and laboratory can have every piece of computer hardware that scientists want to experiment with,” said Keahey. ​“Chameleon gives them access that is as good as if the computer was sitting on their desk — this really levels the playing field, especially for scientists and institutions that could not afford to buy expensive resources. And there is another kind of magic that happens when every scientist has access to the same hardware: They can repeat or reproduce each other’s experiments. This is something that we are working hard to foster.” 

Not long after Chameleon launched, Keahey took on another undertaking as cofounder and co-editor-in-chief of the SoftwareX journal in 2015. 

The journal was founded with an explicit focus to recognize software achievements. Instead of publishing scientific results, SoftwareX publishes software as a scientific instrument. It helps recognize the contributions to science made by software projects, of which there are a lot.  

“Today software is behind almost all scientific results, but historically, people tend to be dismissive of software’s contribution to science,” said Keahey. ​“Another way to say this is that they don’t give scientific software instruments the credit they deserve.” 

To demonstrate software’s impact on science, Keahey led a special issue on software that contributed to the detection of the gravitational wave, which is an incredibly fast, invisible ripple in space.  

“It was fascinating to document the various different ways in which software is inherently a part of the chain of discovery,” explained Keahey. ​“Over the course of three decades, software was used to design the detectors, as part of the operations, and finally to process the data and obtain results.”  

If that is not enough, Keahey has found herself a new instrument to build, one that takes computing out of the data center and into the field.  

“Our users were increasingly interested in exploring these types of research questions,” said Keahey. ​“So, we extended Chameleon to provide an edge testbed.”  

Together with Nick Feamster, a colleague at the UChicago and networking expert, Kate conceived a new project. It will deploy over 1,000 edge devices over the city of Chicago and university campuses to evaluate the quality of access networks, a type of telecommunications network that connects subscribers to their immediate service provider, such as ethernet.  

“This is an exciting new area for us,” said Keahey. ​“You can imagine all sorts of explorations now that were beyond reach before.” 

Argonne National Laboratory seeks solutions to pressing national problems in science and technology. The nation’s first national laboratory, Argonne conducts leading-edge basic and applied scientific research in virtually every scientific discipline. Argonne researchers work closely with researchers from hundreds of companies, universities, and federal, state and municipal agencies to help them solve their specific problems, advance America’s scientific leadership and prepare the nation for a better future. With employees from more than 60 nations, Argonne is managed by UChicago Argonne, LLC for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit https://​ener​gy​.gov/​s​c​ience.