Hotspot: Ravi Vadapalli in the Zone

New director for research IT joins UIT

May 15, 2018 — After a lengthy search and interview process, University IT welcomed its new director for research IT on May 10. Ravi K. Vadapalli, a computational researcher, has been an IT professional working in high-performance computing for about 18 years. Coming from Texas Tech University, Lubbock, Texas, Dr. Vadapalli was the site director for the National Science Foundation Industry/University Cooperative Research Center, I/UCRC, Cloud and Autonomic Computing Center. He also was a senior research scientist in the High-Performance Computing Center and an adjunct professor of petroleum engineering.

Ravi Vadapalli, UNT director of IT support, Research IT"We are happy to welcome Dr. Vadapalli to the UIT staff and the UNT community. His extensive experience supports a focused strategic management of UNT's Research IT Services and can help move computational research to a new level at UNT," said Dr. Philip Baczewski, executive director, University IT.

Based in the General Academic Building, Dr. Vadapalli oversees two specialized groups in UIT: High-Performance Computing Services and Research and Statistical Support.

High-performance computing supports faculty, researchers and students to model their hypotheses, and industry members to design new technologies and products, and the domain experts often live and speak their science, Vadapalli said. HPC professionals often need to understand the science to help the domain experts—quite a challenging task. Prepared to talk the talk—in English, Telugu or Hindi—Vadapalli holds a Ph.D. from Andhra University, Visakhapatnam, India, with a concentration in nuclear physics. He has a master's degree in computational engineering from Mississippi State University, Starkville, Miss. He has served as a guest lecturer in computer science, physics, mechanical engineering, health sciences and petroleum engineering since 2008. His research and collaborations span several domains in science, engineering, liberal arts, and medicine.

Vadapalli likes to play tennis and chess with his son, and participate in community-fundraising activities for university students, and school programs. He enjoys watching cricket and movies with his family too. He follows a vegetarian diet and his favorite restaurant is the Olive Garden. His vacation dreams take him to Mexico, Europe and back to India, he said, but most of his time is focused on his passion—helping students.

Ravi Vadapalli in Cancún, Quintana Roo, Mexico"I strongly believe that students are the best working capital for higher education’s contribution to innovations and the economy. Students play a crucial role in helping faculty succeed in their research pursuits, and their university training is pivotal for energizing their ideas and hypotheses," said Dr. Vadapalli. In his time off, he ran two competitive scholarship programs that provide in-state tuition for students who graduated from India and come to the United States for higher education.

"The NSF Cloud and Autonomic Computing Center at TTU has scholarships for students that demonstrate interest and alignment with ongoing industry-relevant research and development partnership programs through the center. I would like to mentor students to help them turn their ideas into potential start-up opportunities."

"My work for the last 12-plus years at Texas Tech involved user training and support, research development, industry-research partnerships, and grant collaborations. At UNT, I would like to help potential users how HPC can help in their research, mentor students as a bridge between faculty and HPC, and inculcate entrepreneurial thinking as a part of training," he said.

Vadapalli's responsibilities at UNT include managing the UIT HPC infrastructure and capabilities to provide compute services for faculty, researchers and students. These would include providing training to support customized needs to engage with HPC capabilities productively, he said.

Another primary focus of his job, he said, is to foster collaborations with and between HPC users that lead to new research and training capabilities, grant opportunities, workforce development and innovations. "I have experience mentoring students and helping them turn their ideas into new opportunities," he said. Previously, Dr. Vadapalli worked in a voluntary capacity to help his community leverage federal grant opportunities to develop their business interests. As the former representative to the National Center for Women and Information Technology Academic Alliance, Vadapalli believes in supporting and strengthening STEM education, research and outreach for the whole community.

Focusing on the future, Dr. Vadapalli answered a few questions about his vision.

What do you see as the accelerated innovation megatrends in computing, big data or analytics?
"Both high-performance computing and big data analytics, the process of examining large and varied data sets, are currently in somewhat parallel paths, although both are equally critical technologies in addressing computational and data challenges respectively. The next generation trend, in my view, would be in combining these information technology paradigms for more accurately predictable outcomes. For example, smart manufacturing is an emerging area that combines multiscale modeling (HPC area), and data analytics involving disparate sources of data such as ARM processors, sensors, and IoTs. By combining these modeling tools, more robust outcomes are feasible. UNT’s researchers are looking into designing new HPC architectures that can more efficiently support big data. Further, UNT’s strong presence in materials-science engineering, related industry-research partnership programs supported through NSF I/UCRC programs potentially position UNT to assume leadership in accelerated innovation megatrends in the years to come."

Do you see the exascale computing frontier coming to UNT?
"If we succeed in combining HPC- and big data paradigms for a greater good, we are not too far from the exabyte era. We are not ready for it as yet."

High-performance computing can build bridges between disciplines and units if leveraged in a manner that promotes collaboration. Where do you see opportunities for UNT to break down barriers through technology-driven approaches in the years ahead?
"The emerging challenge is the gap between rapidly growing computing technologies and legacy codes that use them. This could result in suboptimal use of research dollars in computational science and engineering. To change this trend, at TTU, I have architected Application Support Services and User Recruitment, ASSURE, that is staffed with motivated students. Their main goal is to pick legacy codes and upgrade them to current technologies. ASSURE teams up with a domain scientist, the HPC staff member, who is willing to understand science and help the domain scientist, and students who are interested in information technology, but may not know science or computing technologies. This is a win-win for all stakeholders. This effort can serve as a catalyst in promoting collaborations across science, engineering, liberal arts, and medicine, and break down barriers between domain silos and increases UNT’s leadership opportunities in the region and nationally."

What are some new and innovative ways we can support individual researchers in meeting their research goals?
"There are a number of ways we can help individual researchers meet their research goals, such as the following.

  • By learning the researcher’s interests, near- and long-term goals, we can help support their immediate research needs directly
  • By participating in researcher-led group meetings, we also could explore other collaborative opportunities across disciplines, and within HPC-users who might benefit from such engagements.
  • By training their students to leverage advanced computing and information technology capabilities, we are helping researchers excel in their research pursuits
  • Additionally, by knowing the researcher’s interests, we can help develop new grant opportunities."

From your perspective, what is the role of data governance in Research IT?
"Data governance is a critical piece of information across the organization. It covers both academic and research data generated within the organization. Several grant agencies are already requiring the research data management for transfer of knowledge and innovation. Additionally, I think methods to leverage the data to sustain higher education innovation capacity building, for example, and other areas of strategic presence and growth opportunities would be an excellent area for investment within research IT.

To what extent should there be standards regarding documentation, collection and reporting of research information at UNT?
"High-performance computing is increasingly becoming a strategic investment in higher education. There is a multitude of data need in assessing the return on investment and future potential in this direction. Therefore, Research IT in concert with the faculty advisory committee should develop or modify standards regarding documentation, collection and reporting of research information to UNT. Convergence of this data with federal grant requirements and vice versa would be ideal."

How can we leverage research information at UNT to best position the university for funding opportunities and maintaining Tier 1-status?
"High-performance computing is becoming an increasingly indispensable component and a strategic investment in higher education. Compared to cloud providers such as Google, Amazon, institutional HPC positions itself for at least 1:10 ROI. External funding is a major contributor to this ROI. By leveraging interdisciplinary research capabilities in both traditional and non-traditional application areas, we can create new opportunities towards maintaining Tier 1 status. Over the past 12-plus years or so, I have collaborated in over $20 million in external funding with high success rate, more than $230-million in-kind, and led and developed new research frontiers at Texas Tech University. Most of this experience and collaborations are readily transferable to UNT.

Additionally, by integrating entrepreneurial training for both students and faculty researchers, we could help incubate technology development and commercialization opportunities on campus."

Ravi Vadapalli
In 2016 and 2017, Vadapalli visited Chichén Itzá, a complex of Mayan ruins on Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula, Niagra Falls, Ontario, Canada, and Cancún, Quintana Roo, Mexico.

Read more about Dr. Vadapalli.

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