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Launchpod

What is Launchpod?

Launchpod is a tool to deploy virtual machines (VMs) on the NeCTAR Research Cloud with one of a number of preconfigured research-based software applications. Launchpod is designed like a wizard; it will take care of the technical aspects of spawning a VM by asking you some details. The software applications that you can build using Launchpod are:

  • Twitter Scraper – a tool to harvest Twitter for hashtags, phrases, exact tweets and specific users
  • DIVER – a general purpose open source research data capture and sharing application
  • Omeka – an open source Content Management System suitable for rich collections of data and images
  • LimeSurvey – a tool to quickly create intuitive, powerful, online question-and-answer surveys
  • MATLAB® – a powerful tool for numerical computation, visualization, and programming
  • Alveo – a virtual laboratory of tools for searching, analysing and annotating natural language datasets
  • CSIRO Workspace – a powerful software platform for sharing scientific workflows in one coherent, simple environment
  • RStudio – a free, powerful tool for statistical computing and graphics.
     

Launchpod allows researchers to quickly establish a working version of the software without the need for specialised IT knowledge.  Also, these applications are very resource-intensive, and running them on a notebook/desktop computer can cause the machine to run slowly, and often the machine will need to be left on for hours in order to complete a process. Running them in the cloud means that they are less susceptible to crashing, and will run much faster and more efficiently on dedicated hardware, and can be left on constantly.

The typical users of Launchpod are researchers who already use these tools on existing machines and want to use them in the cloud to improve collaboration, or upscale their use and take advantage of the NeCTAR computing environment; or those who want to experiment with these tools and evaluate them for their own projects without needing to configure their own machine to run them.

Please note: This is a guide to using Launchpod. It is not a guide to using the applications that can be deployed with Launchpod. Some of the applications may require additional expertise and extensive training in order to utilise them in your research.

Who can access Launchpod?

Launchpod can be accessed by any researcher from an organisation that participates in the Australian Access Federation (AAF).  All Australian universities are members of AAF. 

How do I access Launchpod?

Launchpod uses a particular kind of password, called an ‘OpenStack API password’, to access your NeCTAR account and deploy instances on your behalf. 

Obtaining an OpenStack API password

To allow Launchpod to deploy a VM for you, you must first create an OpenStack API password in your NeCTAR Dashboard. Log in to the NeCTAR Dashboard via AAF (that is, using your university’s login and password), and go to your account settings, which are accessed by hovering the mouse over your email address in the top-right corner of the screen. In Settings,  select ‘reset password’. This will display a new API password on the screen. Copy this password and have it ready to enter into Launchpod.

Creating or resetting the API password will not affect the way you log into NeCTAR or any other AAF service; it is only used to allow external services to connect to your NeCTAR account. That said, if you have other external services that use a password to log in to your NeCTAR account, this step will reset that password and you will have to re-authenticate those services, or otherwise use the same password from your existing services to authenticate Launchpod.

Once you have this NeCTAR password, go to the Launchpod website and login using AAF. You will be prompted to enter your OpenStack API password, which you retrieved in the last step. Enter it here and select ‘change password’. You will now be able to deploy a VM.

Deploying a Virtual Machine

Clicking ‘Deploy New Instance’ will open a page where Launchpod will ask for various configuration settings. These settings correspond to VM deployment options within the NeCTAR Research Cloud. You are encouraged to read the Intersect Service Catalogue guide to the NeCTAR Research Cloud prior to using Launchpod, to understand what these settings refer to.

VM Settings

The following settings are mandatory:

  • Product to be deployed

The ‘product’ is the software application (from the list above) that this VM will run. Selecting an application will display information about it on the right side of the screen. You can also find more information and links to the software website on the ‘View Products’ screen.

  • NeCTAR project

Launchpod deploys VMs into your existing projects. If you have never used NeCTAR before, only your personal trial project (beginning with ‘pt-’) will be displayed. If you are involved with more projects, each of these will be listed and you will need to select the appropriate one.

  • The ‘flavour’ (size) of the VM

The size of the VM is limited to the resources that are available in the project. If you select a flavour that requires more resources than your project has available, the deployment will fail and you will be prompted to either change project or select a smaller flavour.

The following settings are optional:

  • SSH key pair

The keypair is used to authenticate to the machine via SSH (protocol to securely obtain access to a remote computer). This drop-down list will display the keypairs that you have in your NeCTAR account. If you have not created or uploaded a keypair in NeCTAR and you need SSH access to this server, you need to do this in the NeCTAR Dashboard first before you launch a VM.

  • Availability zone

If you need the server to be deployed to a particular node of NeCTAR, then select that node in the ‘availability zone’ drop-down box. If this is not important to your project, leave this blank and NeCTAR will automatically select a node with available resources.

  • Instance name

Launchpod will set a default name for your instance, which is the name of the software product. You may change this if you want to, but note that the purpose of the instance name is just for identification purposes within NeCTAR and has no effect on the VM itself.

When you have entered all necessary settings, click ‘Next’.

Product-specific configurations

Some applications require additional settings before they can be deployed. The following sections describe each application.

  1. Omeka
    Omeka needs no additional settings, and will be able to be launched immediately after filling in the required NeCTAR settings. Launchpod will email you instructions on how to access the Omeka application once it is deployed.
     
  2. DIVER
    DIVER requires you to specify a username and password that you will use to log into the DIVER application. You also need to supply an email address. Launchpod will enter the email address associated with your AAF identity by default, but you may change this.

    Please note: DIVER is designed for use in an ongoing, production environment and the NeCTAR Research Cloud is not designed for this purpose. As such, deploying an instance of DIVER via Launchpod is intended for testing/review purposes only. Intersect can assist to implement production environments and managed services as required. Please contact your university’s eResearch Analyst for more information.  
     

  3. LimeSurvey
    LimeSurvey requires you to specify a username and password that you will use to log into the LimeSurvey application. You also need to supply an email address. Launchpod will enter the email address associated with your AAF identity by default, but you may change this.
     
  4. MATLAB®
    MATLAB® is a desktop application and not a web application, meaning that the virtual machine needs to be configured to allow you to log into it as if it were a desktop computer. To deploy a MATLAB® instance, you will need to configure the operating system (OS) username and password, which will be used to log into the machine, as well as a Virtual Network Computing (VNC) password, which is used specifically to view the machine’s desktop over the web using a remote desktop connection and VNC software. When a MATLAB® VM is deployed, Launchpod will email you instructions on how to get VNC software to view the machine’s desktop and run MATLAB®. When accessing the machine using the VNC software, you will need to enter the VNC password that you specified in Launchpod first, and then the OS username and password, which you will use to log into the user account, as if you were working on a desktop computer.

    MATLAB® also requires an installation key and a licence. An installation key is a string that informs the server which software packages it should install. If you do not have an installation key, your university may assist you with this. MATLAB® is commercial software and requires a licence to run. If you are a researcher at a university, there may be an institutional licence that you can use. Contact your university’s IT department for assistance. Launchpod does not need the licence to deploy a MATLAB® VM and it does not ask for it, but you will need to enter a licence in order to run the MATLAB® software after the VM is deployed.
     

  5. Alveo
    Alveo requires you to specify a username and password that you will use to log into the Alveo application. You also need to supply an email address. Launchpod will enter the email address associated with your AAF identity by default, but you may change this.

    Please note: Alveo is designed for use in an ongoing, production environment and the NeCTAR Research Cloud is not designed for this purpose. As such, deploying an instance of Alveo via Launchpod is intended for testing/review purposes only. Intersect can assist to implement production environments and managed services as required. Please contact your university’s eResearch Analyst for more information.  

  6. Twitter Scraper
    The Twitter Scraper is a very different tool from the rest of the applications. It does not offer a user interface, meaning you cannot log into it, and does not allow the user to set the search parameters once it is launched. Instead, the search parameters are set within Launchpod, and after it is deployed it will run continuously, generating more data until it is shut off. For this reason, Launchpod requires you to configure the parameters during the deployment phase. Launchpod also requires access to use your Twitter account, much like you allowed Launchpod to interact with your NeCTAR account.

    Please see the Intersect service catalogue guide for the Twitter Scraper for assistance.
     

  7. CSIRO Workspace
    CSIRO Workspace is a desktop application and not a web application, meaning that the virtual machine needs to be configured to allow you to log into it as if it were a desktop computer. To deploy a CSIRO Workspace instance, you will need to configure the operating system (OS) username and password, which will be used to log into the machine, as well as a Virtual Network Computing (VNC) password, which is used specifically to view the machine’s desktop over the web using a remote desktop connection and VNC software. When the VM is deployed, Launchpod will email you instructions on how to get VNC software to view the machine’s desktop and run the software. When accessing the machine using the VNC software, you will need to enter the VNC password that you specified in Launchpod first, and then the OS username and password, which you will use to log into the user account, as if you were working on a desktop computer.
     
  8. RStudio
    RStudio is deployed as a web application and a desktop application. To use the desktop application the virtual machine needs to be configured to allow you to log into it as if it were a desktop computer. To deploy an RStudio instance, you will need to configure the operating system (OS) username and password, which will be used to log into the machine, as well as a Virtual Network Computing (VNC) password, which is used specifically to view the machine’s desktop over the web using a remote desktop connection and VNC software. When the VM is deployed, Launchpod will email you instructions on how to get VNC software to view the machine’s desktop and run the software. When accessing the machine using the VNC software, you will need to enter the VNC password that you specified in Launchpod first, and then the OS username and password, which you will use to log into the user account, as if you were working on a desktop computer. The email sent to your account will also contain details on how to access the RStudio web application. 
     

Deployment

Once you have filled in all the necessary information that Launchpod requires, click ‘Deploy’. The process can take up to 40 minutes depending on the number of software packages that the machine will have to download and install for the selected product to run properly. When the deployment process is complete, you will receive an email with some instructions on how to access your machine. This information is also available anytime from the Launchpod homepage via the ‘View Instance Details’ link.

To terminate a machine, you can do so either from within the NeCTAR Dashboard, as with any NeCTAR instance, or through the Launchpod interface by clicking the ’Delete’ link on the homepage.

What else do I need to know about Launchpod?  

Launchpod is just an interface used to interact with your NeCTAR account and, as such, you are strongly encouraged to read the Intersect Service Catalogue guide to the NeCTAR Research Cloud. It is important to understand the risks associated with cloud computing and to take any appropriate measures to mitigate those risks such as regular backups of your data and snapshots of your systems.

What costs are involved?

Both Launchpod and the NeCTAR Research Cloud are free to use for all Australian researchers.  Note that this does not include application licensing costs where applicable (e.g. MATLAB®).