Technical Resources to Support Remote Research

Last updated on May 15, 2020 to include Bookings, available through our Office 365 subscription, as an option for scheduling.


Seminars, Webinars, and Training | Central Technical Services | Computing | Storage | Remote Access to Computers in Offices and Labs | Remote Access to Specialized Software | Automation and Digitization | Project Management | Software Engineering and Application Development | Remote Operations and Scheduling of Core Facilities and Research Labs | Domain Specific Practices | Remote Meetings | Training | Remote Communications | Penn State Official Guidance and Plans | Get Help


Contact the Office of the Associate CIO for Research for a quick or comprehensive consultation on issues and concerns on moving/accessing  your research activities online: researchcomputinghelp@psu.edu


The health and safety of the Penn State community is the University’s highest priority and the Office of the Associate CIO for Research is committed to helping researchers execute their research effectively while operating from remote locations away from Penn State offices, labs, and facilities.  The materials on this page are designed to help researchers reimagine their research enterprises to minimize their reliance on physical presence at specific locations. We recognize that not all work can be performed remotely--we cannot solve the problem of wet labs, animal research, EEG administration, toggling DIP switches, etc--but we are developing approaches to help you move a large portion of your research from onsite to offsite.

In the context of the Office of the Senior Vice President for Research’s Guidance on Reducing Research Activity in Labs, Environmental Health and Safety’s Guidance on Working on Campus, and HR's Guidance on Remote Work, we emphasize that larger-scale service providers are better positioned than smaller-scale providers to implement and enforce rigorous protocols around social distancing, personal protective equipment, and reduced human presence in their data centers. We encourage you to consider this as you choose the providers of your computational and storage services. The bottom line is that each cyberinfrastructure deployment choice shifts the burden of physical presence from one person to another--from yourself, to your lab staff, your local IT staff, university IT staff, or national-scale providers. The further up that scale you go, the more resources can be invested in rigorous personal protection protocols. In this calculus, desktop computers and workstations in Penn State offices and labs are more difficult to use safely than virtual computers and workstations deployed in professionally-managed data centers, accessed securely via university-owned laptops. 

On this page you will find resources to help with remote work, remote meetings, and remote communications, with an emphasis on resources related to:

  • IT

  • Information Security

  • Research Computing

  • Cyberinfrastructure

  • Research Data Logistics

  • Research Data Management

  • Library resources

  • Process Improvement

  • Automation

  • Planning, Project Management, and Task Management

Our office provides free consultation on any of these topics. Please contact us at researchcomputinghelp AT psu.edu. This will generate a ticket with the Office of the Associate CIO for Research.

 

Considerations and Assistance to Enable the Remote Execution of Your Research


Seminars, Webinars, and Training

  • Seminars on Remote Research – beginning the week of April 13 – jointly presented by the Office of the Associate CIO for Research, the University Libraries, and the Institute for Computational and Data Sciences – information coming the week of April 6 

  • IT Learning and Development offers training sessions for many software products that can be used to improve remote work capacity.

  • Penn State has a license for the use of training from LinkedIn Learning. You'll need to login with your Penn State account.

  • Penn State IT's Talent Management group offers training on topics such as virtual teams, Sharepoint and Teams, and Azure Certifications.  Visit the IT Talent Management Sharepoint site for more information.

  • Penn State HR's Learning Resource Network offers regular training sessions on topics such as Remote Workforce Management and Project Management.


Central Technical Services

Discover and adopt the university's centrally-provided and unit-provided research-related technical services. 

  • The site researchcomputing.psu.edu provides a comprehensive listing of technical services and resources available to Penn State researchers in the categories of IT, IT security, research data, cyberinfrastructure, research computing, high performance computing, research administrative software, and select research administrative services. 

  • Utilize the research-related services of the University Libraries -- guidance on remote utilization of University Libraries services.


Computing Options

Utilize university-provided computational infrastructures and/or cloud-based computational services to reduce reliance on desktop-scale, lab-workstation-scale, and local-data-center-scale computational infrastructures. 

  • Researchers may choose to utilize the Institute for Computational and Data Sciences (ICDS) Advanced CyberInfrastructure to execute compute-intensive computational needs.   ICDS-ACI hardware is located in the University Park Data Center.

  • Researchers may choose to execute research in the cloud rather than on university-owned resources.  Penn State has contracts with Azure, AWS, and GPC, and has consulting capacity to help you move your research to the cloud. A limited number of Azure Certifications are available by contacting IT Talent Management at ittalentmanagement@psu.edu.  Visit the IT Talent Management Sharepoint site for more information.

  • Researchers may choose to deploy research to national supercomputing centers such as Blue Waters, XSEDE, or the DOE INCITE Program. ICDS provides consulting services to assist researchers in the use of national resources.

  • Researchers with purpose-specific computational clusters can contact Data Center Services to locate those clusters in one of the university's professionally managed Data Centers at University Park. 

  • Researchers may choose to locate purpose-specific computational clusters in distributed College Data Centers (where available). Contact your College IT Unit, your Institute IT Unit, or your Campus IT Unit for more information. 

  • Due to the Governor's Stay at Home Order and the University's Guidance on Remote Work, we cannot recommend the acquisition and deployment of office-based or lab-based computing devices at this time. 


Storage Options

Utilize university-provided storage services and/or cloud-based storage services to reduce your reliance on desktop-scale, lab-scale, and college-scale storage services. 

  • Penn State's primary cloud-based storage services are OneDrive, Box, and Google Drive.  Researchers using these services will be best positioned to work remotely. When utilizing these services for university-related purposes, login with your Penn State identity.

  • Note that researchers with L3/L4 data (data needing more security) should plan to utilize OneDrive rather than Box--but in any event, researchers should schedule a consultation with the Office of Information Security Secure Enclave team (security@psu.edu) and receive appropriate permissions BEFORE moving any L3/L4 data to OneDrive. 

  • The Institute for Computational and Data Sciences (ICDS) also provides a storage option for researchers who sign a Service Level Agreement with ICDS. For more information on this option, contact ICDS' iAsk Center to get started. ICDS' physical infrastructure resides in the University Park Data Center. 

  • Many Colleges, Campuses, and Institutes offer their own local storage solutions, available via their respective IT units.  In some cases, these storage solutions may be located in the University Park Data Center; in other cases, they may be located in distributed Data Centers in the units. 

  • Due to the Governor's Stay at Home Order and the University's Guidance on Remote Work, we cannot recommend the acquisition and deployment of office-based or lab-based computing devices at this time. 


Remote Access to Existing Computers in Offices and Labs

Access your existing office-based and lab-based computing devices securely and safely from home. 

  • Digital security best practices from the Office of Information Security 

  • Guidance on working on L3/L4 ATO's from Home for researchers with projects utilizing Level 3 or Level 4 data 

  • Guidance on working on L1/L2 data from home.  The Office of Information Security has relaxed the requirements for accessing university-owned computers from personally-owned computers, but only on a case-by-case basis. A specific VPN profile is required. The linked document provides complete information on steps you need to take. 

  • TeamViewer is used by many IT units at Penn State to access computers remotely. It *may* already be installed on your office-based computer, and you *may* be able to use it yourself from home IF you have a univesity-owned computer at home. This option will require you to contact your local IT unit about the availability of TeamViewer, and consult with the Office of Information Security about the appropriateness for your use case.   

  • Mac users can reduce their reliance on desktop-based Macs by utilizing cloud-based Mac services such as Virtual Mac OS X or Mac In Cloud.  Note that the university does *not* have site licenses for such services, and any usage of such a service should start with a consultation with the Office of Information Security to ensure the security of university resources.

  • Simplify the administration of your existing desktop computers in offices and labs, and reduce the need to come onsite, by adopting the university's Penn State Desktop service, which can help you automate updates, patching, and software deployments.


Remote Access to Specialized Software

Reduce your reliance on desktop-installed software tied to specific computers.


Automation and Digitization

Revisit your research practices with a focus on automating data transfers, automating workflows, improving and streamlining processes, and digitizing paper-based and in-person tasks. 


Planning, Task Management, and Project Management

Improve your ability to keep your research teams organized, on-task, and on-schedule. 

  • Jira (part of the Atlassian suite of products) is excellent for tracking issues of any kind. In the context of remote research, it can be used to assign tasks to your research team and track the progress of those tasks, putting rigor around processes that may have previously been based on daily face-to-face interactions. Note that Jira is widely (but not universally) available at Penn State.  Contact your local IT unit for more information; contact the Office of the Associate CIO for Research if your local IT unit is unable to assist you.

  • Microsoft Planner is a lightweight tool for assigning tasks to yourself and to groups of people. While much less feature-rich than Jira or Asana, it has the advantage of being free, easy-to-use, and available to everyone at Penn State as part of O365.

  • Trello is a project management tool which allows teams to use boards, cards, and lists to facilitate collaborative projects. Trello also enables the integration of many of the tools your team already uses (e.g., OneDrive, GitHub, Google Docs). Trello is now part of the Atlassian Suite, so departments with Jira/Confluence licences may already have access to Trello.

  • Asana is somewhere between Jira and Planner--lighter than Jira, but heavier than Planner, and more of a Task Management tool than a Project Management tool.  Asana is easy to use, but the university does not have a site license, so this would require a purchase.

  • Scheduling and Calendaring -- to help protect your lab teams, we recommend using scheduling software to ensure that no two people are in your office or lab at the same time (unless you have been otherwise directed by EHS). By far the easiest way to do this is using the Calendar feature in Office 365. This is available to everyone at the university at no charge. 

  • Sharing and Collaboration of Microsoft files (Excel, PowerPoint, Sharepoint, etc.)

  • The Daily Standup -- To better organize teams in a remote setting, consider borrowing the "standup meeting" from the world of agile software development -- a short meeting at the same time each day where team members share what they’ve done, what they’re going to do, and what barriers prevent them from being more productive. LinkedIn Learning has several training options to help you get started.

  • Penn State IT offers Guidance for Managers and Team Leaders  while working remotely. This may be useful to researchers with software developers and systems administrators on their research teams.


Software Engineering and Application Development

Manage the development of software-based tools to support your research needs.

  • GitLab -- Provides a single application for the entire software development and operations lifecycle

  • Managing Resources from afar with APIs -- information from Dr Rick Gilmore, Penn State, originally for PSY 525, but useful to anyone storing data in the cloud, with specific information on using Box, Google Drive, Open Science Framework, and Databrary


Remote Operations and Scheduling of Core Facilities and Research Labs

Follow university guidance and improve your ability to run your instrumentation facilities as remotely as possible. 

  • Guidance for Performing Remote Teaching or Research from Home -- includes information for faculty members who wish to conduct teaching demonstrations or research activities while working from home. A three-tiered approach has been established to provide guidance on four hazard categories (biological, chemical, physical, and radiation) using a table format.

  • Guidance for Performing Teaching Demonstrations in University Labs or Shops -- provides direction for faculty or staff members who wish to livestream/record class demonstrations from on-campus laboratories or shops. Guidance on working alone and use of a “buddy system” is included.

  • Guidance for Fieldwork -- offers guidance to minimize potential risks associated with fieldwork during the coronavirus pandemic. Applies to teaching or research activities conducted by University faculty, staff, or students in outdoor areas (on or off campus).

  • iLab (CORES) -- provides the ability to schedule and bill for your core facilities remotely and automatically, and to collect research documentation -- university-provided, administered by the Office of Research Information Systems (ORIS) 

  • RIMS -- similar to CORES, in use by Materials Research Institute and Institute of Energy and the Environment/Energy and Environmental Sustainability Laboratories (IEE/EESL). For more information on RIMS, the Penn State contact is Leeanna Horner (contact information available in Penn State's O365 directory). Note that a RIMS replacement (LEO) is scheduled to roll out during Summer 2020. 

  • The Research Network (Science DMZ) gives you the ability to have highly secure, high bandwidth, low latency connections to your lab.

  • HP RGS -- if your research specifically requires low latency access between a control computer and an instrumentation computer, some users at Penn State have found the HP RGS software to be a good choice.

  • Though it was designed for small businesses, Bookings, available through our Office 365 subscription, can be adapted so it can be used for things like office hours scheduling, scheduling for lab meetings, space scheduling, etc.

  • We are specifically seeking ideas that enhance social distancing in lab settings, while maintaining environmental health and safety standards. For instance, rather than having two people in the same room, you might use Remote Meeting technologies to separate people into different rooms while they collaborate. If you have ideas to contribute in this area, please scroll to the bottom of this page and submit them via the form so we can include them here.  


Domain-Specific Practices

Following are examples of domain-specific practices that may be adopted or adapted where appropriate.  We welcome submissions of other examples.


Remote Meetings

Penn State provides several licensed options for holding remote meetings. When using them for Penn State purposes, login with your Penn State account. 
Tools


Training

  • Penn State IT's Guidance on Remote Teaching -- this service provided by Teaching and Learning with Technology (TLT) is very relevant to researchers because much of the content is directly applicable to holding staff meetings, one-on-one meetings, large meetings, or conferences online.  


Remote Communications

Improve your ability to communicate with your research teams and colleagues remotely. 

 

Research-Related COVID-19 Guidance and Plans from Around the University  

 

Get Help

To initiate a consultation on any of these topics, email researchcomputinghelp AT psu.edu. This will generate a ticket with the Office of the Associate CIO for Research. 

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