Working across the UC campuses to understand how researchers use virtual machine and container images


Many research computing services are seeing rapid growth in the use of virtual machine (VM) and container images to support research computation, applications, and workflows (Belmann et al., 2015). These images are used across a range of compute models and disciplines. Researcher interest in VMs and containers is driven by a wide range of considerations, including need to provision and run VM images when using cloud resources; portability of environments to multiple computational resources or platforms; efficiency in reproducing and sharing environments that are proven and configured for a researcher’s workflow; and citability in descriptions of research methodology. Researchers can be significantly supported by a maintenance regime that minimizes time and attention they must pay operating system and application maintenance tasks, and by mechanisms that ease discovery of images best suited to their need. From a researcher’s perspective, an initial step in their research workflow is the discovery and tailored configuration of reliable, preferably vetted images, from which to select an appropriate fully-functional or base image which they can modify for their computational research.

To begin to understand how researchers undertake the discovery of such images, a small group of UC researchers were interviewed to elicit an overview of their computational research needs and practices, as well as past or prospective characteristics or features they do or expect to look for when choosing or augmenting a VM or container in which to run computational research. We will present an overview of our findings and lead a discussion about what researcher needs others are seeing on their campuses. We will also discuss how we might expand this study across the UC campuses to gather more data about researcher needs and look toward a collaborative effort to support these needs.

Belmann, P., Dröge, J., Bremges, A., McHardy, A. C., Sczyrba, A., & Barton, M. D. (2015). Bioboxes: standardised containers for interchangeable bioinformatics software. GigaScience, 4(1).

Previous Knowledge

This session is for anyone interested in virtual machine or container images, especially in a research context. Some basic understanding of the technologies is helpful, but not required.  

Software Installation Expectation

No  software installation required

Session skill level
Session Track
Supporting Research and Researchers