Information for Prospective Users

If you are new to the WestGrid environment, we hope that the following questions and answers will help you judge whether to consider using WestGrid. If you have further questions, please write to us at or explore the WestGrid web site.

  • What is WestGrid?

    WestGrid is a consortium of Western Canadian universities and other partners that provides high performance computing resources for Canadian research projects. For more information, click on the "About WestGrid" link in the menu bar above.

    WestGrid is one of seven HPC (High Performance Computing) consortia which together make up Compute Canada.
  • Who should consider using WestGrid?

    The WestGrid project is intended to facilitate research that depends on access to computing resources that are beyond the means of the local resources of the individual researcher and to relieve the researcher of the burden of maintaining his or her own machine room. You should consider using WestGrid if your local computing environment presents fundamental barriers to advancement of your projects, due to such factors as limited numbers of machines, limited memory, inadequate disk space etc. In some cases, access to parallel processing to allow faster turnaround of individual jobs or more aggregrate memory to enable larger jobs to be completed is the motivation.
  • Am I eligible for an account?

    WestGrid facilities are designated for Canadian researchers or those collaborating on Canadian research projects. In general, any academic researcher from a Canadian research institution with significant high performance computing requirements to support his or her research may apply for an account on WestGrid. Students require sponsorship from a faculty supervisor.

    All researchers must register with Compute Canada before applying for a WestGrid account.
  • How do I get an account?

    Conditions of use and other details about accounts, including how to apply for an account, are found on the accounts management page.
  • Is there a charge for using WestGrid?

    There is currently no charge for routine use of the WestGrid facilities. Charges may apply for backup tapes or specialized software.
  • What hardware facilities does WestGrid have?

    A variety of commodity and high-performance clusters, large shared-memory computers, and specialized storage, visualization and collaboration facilities are available. See the "Resources & Services" menu at the top of the page for links to details about the various systems and advice on which one to use. A single account application gives access to all but a few of the more specialized resources, for which a separate request may be required.
  • What software is available on WestGrid systems?

    Tables of system software, compilers, mathematical and other libraries, and application software are on the main WestGrid software page.
  • How much computing power is available to me?

    The answer is not straightforward, as there are many variables involved, including which WestGrid system is being used, whether you have a small number of large runs or a large number of small runs, whether your project has been assigned special priority by the Resource Allocation Committee, etc. For an active user without unusually large memory or processor requirements, 10-30 processors may be obtained on a fairly regular basis.
  • What is the WestGrid computing environment like?

    All the WestGrid computers use a UNIX variant or Linux operating system. Work such as job preparation, compilation, testing and debugging may be done interactively, but, the majority of the WestGrid computing resources are available only for production batch-oriented computing. A job script to run your program is written using a UNIX shell scripting language and submitted to the batch job handling system for assignment to a machine for running.
  • Is parallel programming required?

    Although some of the WestGrid computers are reserved for parallel computing, there are legitimate reasons to run serial jobs. So, you are welcome to run serial code on those systems where is permitted. WestGrid support staff can assist you in selecting the most appropriate systems on which to run your jobs and with parallelization of your code.
  • What experience do I need to use WestGrid?

    As a production high-performance computing environment, researchers have a certain responsibility to use the WestGrid systems effectively. You are expected to learn the basics of UNIX file handling, how to transfer files, submit and monitor batch jobs, monitor your disk storage, etc. Many WestGrid users come from a Microsoft Windows background and so are not expected to be UNIX experts. WestGrid support analysts are happy to help you get started and assist you in learning to use the systems more effectively. You should be aware of the memory requirements of your job and be able to estimate such things as how long a job will take and how much disk space it will require. If you are developing code yourself, you are expected to optimize your code through appropriate choice of algorithm, compiler flags, and, in many cases, using optimized numerical libraries. If you are using a discipline-specific package, you are expected to know how to prepare the input files, choose the appropriate options to apply the software to your particular problem, etc. The WestGrid environment is not particularly good for learning how to use software.


Updated 2010-05-25