L. Childers, L. Liming, and I. Foster, "Perspectives on Distributed Computing: Thirty People, Four User Types, and the Distributed Computing User Experience," Argonne Report ANL/MCS/CI-31, September 2008. [pdf]
This report summarizes the methodology and results of a user perspectives study conducted by the Community Driven Improvement of Globus Software (CDIGS) project. The purpose of the study was to document the work-related goals and challenges facing today’s scientific technology users, to record their perspectives on Globus software and the distributed-computing ecosystem, and to provide recommendations to the Globus community based on the observations. Globus is a set of open source software components intended to provide a framework for collaborative computational science activities. Rather than attempting to characterize all users or potential users of Globus software, our strategy has been to speak in detail with a small group of individuals in the scientific community whose work appears to be the kind that could benefit from Globus software, learn as much as possible about their work goals and the challenges they face, and describe what we found. The result is a set of statements about specific individuals’ experiences. We do not claim that these are
representative of a potential user community, but we do claim to have found commonalities and differences among the interviewees that may be reflected in the user community as a whole. We present these as a series of hypotheses that can be tested by subsequent studies, and we offer recommendations to Globus developers based on the assumption that these hypotheses are representative. Specifically, we conducted interviews with thirty technology users in the scientific community.
We included both people who have used Globus software and those who have not. We made a point of including individuals who represent a variety of roles in scientific projects, for example, scientists, software developers, engineers, and infrastructure providers. The following material is included in this report:
• A summary of the reported work-related goals, significant issues, and points of satisfaction with the use of Globus software
• A method for characterizing users according to their technology interactions, and identification of four user types among the interviewees using the method
• Four profiles that highlight points of commonality and diversity in each user type
• Recommendations for technology developers and future studies
• A description of the interview protocol and overall study methodology
• An anonymized list of the interviewees
• Interview writeups and summary data
The interview summaries in Section 3 and transcripts in Appendix D illustrate the value of distributed computing software – and Globus in particular – to scientific enterprises. They also document opportunities to make these tools still more useful both to current users and to new communities. We aim our recommendations at developers who intend their software to be used and reused in many applications. (This kind of software is often referred to as “middleware.”) Our two core recommendations are as follows. First, it is essential for middleware developers to understand and explicitly manage the multiple user products in which their software components are used. We must avoid making assumptions about the commonality of these products and, instead, study and account for their diversity. Second, middleware developers should engage in different ways with different kinds of users. Having identified four general user types in Section 4, we provide specific ideas for how to engage them in Section 5.