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Shaping SDSC's Future: Q&A with Mary Hart

Mary Hart, SDSC's Division Director of Administration and Operations, leads and manages the center's business office, human relations activities, desktop services group and physical facilities. In addition, she is currently leading the design and planning of a new SDSC building.

Mary, you just received the Betsy Faught award from UCSD for outstanding management. What do you manage at SDSC?

Hart: I manage a number of groups at SDSC including the business office (which manages pre- and post-award fiscal activity and human resources) as well as the web/database, space and facilities, IT systems and desktop services groups. I also take a leadership role for special projects outside these areas as necessary.

You're overseeing the planning of SDSC's new building. What's involved in planning a machine room that hosts terascale+ computers and petabyte archives?

Hart: The most important elements are having a comprehensive understanding of the planning and construction process and then melding together a team of knowledgeable users with architects and engineers who have field knowledge of the specific technology.

The machine room in SDSC's new addition was extremely challenging because the supercomputer technology is changing so rapidly and the demands on electricity and cooling are increasing exponentially. To better understand the criteria for necessary infrastructure to support the room, we brought in a team of outside consultants known for their expertise in building machine rooms.

In addition, we have kept ourselves abreast of the rapidly changing industry standards through our vendors and through organizations such as The Uptime Institute, an organization that performs market research, provides consulting and organizes seminars on a wide variety of issues (including facility environments) related to maintaining computer and data center uptime. For example, we operate our supercomputers 24/7 and maintaining uptime is critical for us.

Tell us about the mentoring program on the UCSD campus you're involved in.

Hart: UCSD is facing a retirement bubble for many management-level personnel including Business Officers who manage academic departments and Organized Research Units. The Business Officer Academy was established to identify the next generation of business leaders and to provide them with the practical training necessary to perform in those positions.

The program focuses on development of critical thinking for decision-making through case study scenarios. We lead them through a series of 7 modules ranging from Human Resources to IT Services and provide them with individual mentoring and job shadowing experience. Each one of the Business Officers involved in the program is assigned one program participant (there are 8 in all).

I consider the Business Officer Academy one of my most important activities because success is critical and will have a lasting, positive effect on UCSD's ability to maintain high standards of management.

What do you see as the biggest opportunities and challenges for SDSC over the next few years?

Hart: SDSC is already extremely well positioned in a leadership role in data management. A few years ago, we made the decision to invest in an equipment architecture that would support large-scale data.

I think we are sitting on top of one of the next most important scientific and engineering phenomenon. Specifically, how do we collect, manage, share, store and preserve over time important and rapidly increasing scientific and engineering data. I think this will also represent the greatest challenge. This is a vast area and there are big obstacles to overcome. For example, how do you develop a plan to ensure data preservation for 100 years or more given the rapidly changing technologies and our human life span? SDSC's Chronopolis effort under the leadership of our director, Fran Berman, is focused on answering that question.

Everyone agrees that this must be done and everyone also agrees that it represents a challenge of enormous proportions. One has to start some place and at SDSC we have begun.

We know you've been to quite a few adventurous locales. Tell us about one.

Hart: This is a hard question because I have traveled extensively and I also love so many outdoor activities (hiking, skiing, running, diving…).

A few years ago I decided to travel through Peru with three friends. We spent a week in the Amazon, which was truly an amazing place of both beauty and danger. No one told me that I would see whole hillsides bathed in butterflies of the most magnificent colors. At another point I was within a few feet of one of the most deadly snakes in the world, the Ferdelance.

Later in the trip we traveled to Machu Picchu and decided to take the train to the top. I never like to do things the "normal way," so about 4 hours into the trip from Cusco to Aguas Calientes (a town located about 2 miles from Machu Picchu), I got the train to stop and let us off out in the middle of nowhere (km 88). We found the Inca trail and spent the better part of the day hiking into Machu Picchu. Coming over the last ridge and through the sun gate I looked down and there it was. It was simply a magical moment that took my breath away