Challenges faced in introducing the use of software container solutions to researchers that do not yet have an extensive computing background

A/Prof. David Eyers1

1University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand

Open source software container solutions, such as Docker, Singularity and Kubernetes, can greatly assist in the creation of reproducible research workflows. Briefly, Docker is a popular general-purpose container ecosystem, but requires privileges inappropriate for use on High Performance Computing facilities, where instead Singularity shines. Kubernetes is a container orchestration framework, which operates at a level of abstraction above the containers themselves.

Researchers should be introduced to these sorts of technologies as they begin to adopt software tools within their workflows, for example, soon after they complete the Software Carpentry workshops in shell, git and basic programming. Nonetheless, we encountered difficulties when trying to provide this teaching, which this talk will cover.

(1) I will discuss experiences running the “introduction to Docker” lesson that I created in early 2019, for the Dunedin Research Bazaar. The lesson has subsequently been used by others internationally, and is now a community lesson linked from the Carpentries website. The lesson is being developed by a growing team within the Carpentries Incubator. Some of the multi-platform difficulties involved getting workshop participants’ computers running Docker have decreased, recently.

(2) A Singularity lesson has now been added to the Carpentries Incubator, and we are working the that lesson’s authors to coordinate how the two lessons can best fit together: ideally back-to-back.

(3) Finally I will discuss opportunities to deploy containers to various targets, including discussion of how Amazon Web Services has been used. For example, AWS Educate Classrooms have been employed to assist undergraduate teaching of similar technologies.


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