Hi, I’m Joe Axberg, an Application Engineer at the Minnesota Supercomputing Institute (MSI).  I am part of the Development and Operations team that builds and maintains our GEMS applications and services. It is through that backend “IT” lens that I will be writing my first post on our blog site.  Others on the GEMS team will be blogging about all the great things being done with GEMS - in other words - how GEMS is being used and how it is making a difference.  In this post though, I’d like to talk a little bit about the technology that powers GEMS.

Here at the University of Minnesota, GEMS is a collaboration between the College of Food, Agricultural, and Natural Resource Sciences (CFANS) and Research Computing, including the Minnesota Supercomputer Institute (MSI) and U Spatial.  The MSI is responsible for providing a variety of high performance computing resources to researchers across the University and beyond. The kind of high performance computing power needed to solve the big problems and crunch the big data.

Utilizing high performance computing can be challenging, complex, and intimidating.  In the agri-food research space, adoption of high performance computing has historically not been very high. Agri-food researchers are not computer scientists - but neither should we need them to be.   Applications and tools should exist that lower the barrier to access high performance computing to the agri-food researcher.

Hence the development of the GEMS Informatics and GEMS Learning Platforms.

What is Informatics? 

A quick Google search revealed this definition:

“the science of processing data for storage and retrieval”

“...processing data for storage and retrieval” - that certainly does sum up what the GEMS platform does - in a perhaps over-simplified way.  At GEMS, we expand on that definition: “turning…data into actionable information for farmers, scientists, governments or companies…” (Check it out at our About Page)

These days it is all about the data and the amount of data is immense - especially in the agri-food sector.  Challenges abound in the form of sustainability, changing climate, distribution, and more.  The data is out there and there is a lot of it.

The volume and complexity of this data often means that traditional methods for gathering, cleaning, organizing, storing, and analyzing data run out of steam. 

The aim of the GEMS Informatics platform is to make the job of the agri-food researcher easier.  An application that allows the data to become actionable more quickly.  Present within GEMS are applications and services that can handle the entire lifecycle of agri-food data.

Coupled with the GEMS platform is GEMS Learning.  Provided are a series of training modules and courses for upskilling agri-food researchers in the use of technology.  GEMS Learning is constantly developing and looking at new training opportunities for agric-food researchers in the area of high performance computing.

What Powers GEMS Informatics?

At risk of sounding cliche’, it really is about the people. Please visit the GEMS website to learn more about the passionate group of researchers, professors, technologists, and administrators who make GEMS possible.

On the technical side, the GEMS platform is a thoroughly modern platform developed using some of the latest technologies and techniques.  The various components of the GEMS platform leverage both private and public cloud services. Docker containers form the basic infrastructure of the platform.  Modern web development technologies are used to implement the platform.