The National Science Foundation’s Office of Cyberinfrastructure in advancing the nation’s cyber infrastructure through supporting the development of future-oriented technologies. The OCI seeks to ensure the United States is able to maintain a leading edge in cyber infrastructure and works to ensure that adequate future professionals are being trained. As acting director of OCI at NSF, Dr. Jose MuÃ±oz heads an exciting and cutting edge unit. His background includes more than 25 years in government service, often in high-end computing roles.
The New New Internet recently had the opportunity to discuss the goals and objectives MuÃ±oz has for the future of OCI.
TNNI: As acting director of the Office of Cyberinfrastructure at NSF, what do your duties entail?
Dr. MuÃ±oz: Leadership and continuity of programs in all areas that interest OCI: high-performance computing, cyber infrastructure software, data and visualization, virtual organizations, international networking, learning and workforce development and computational science. In addition, creating opportunities for “new“ areas in which OCI should be engaged, for example: there is a need for an increased emphasis in software in general, increased involvement in networking and storage. greater participation by OCI in cybersecurity, and significant efforts in collaboration, interoperability and integration, to name a few.
TNNI: Another big area of focus for OCI is supporting education and research. What areas is NSF concentrating on?
Dr. MuÃ±oz: In general, all NSF-funded research has an educational component and panels are asked to look at the integration of education in the research activities being proposed. Part of NSF's Education and Human Resources Directorate's mission is to conduct research in education. OCI is particularly interested in participating in the development of the 21st-century workforce, which will have to be “cyber savvy“ to remain competitive on the world stage. Cyber infrastructure is a critical technology and its very openness and pervasiveness makes it available to all nations. Therefore, it is imperative that the NSF-supported researchers not only have access to leading edge resources, in addition to conventional cyber infrastructure, but that the national workforce has the necessary skills and familiarity with using cyber infrastructure in not only the work environment but in everyday lives as well. We must therefore address at the university level K-12.“¦ I like the apply the phrase “K through gray.” In addition, OCI is also interested in promoting computational science as a recognized discipline and will seek to develop and/or participate in programs along those lines. For example, OCI is now funding Faculty Early Career Development awards in the area of cyber infrastructure and in computational science.
TNNI: OCI helps to support research and educational facilities. How important is it to ensure, not only that cutting-edge research is done, but also that we have highly trained people in those positions and how does OCI help ensure that top people are participating in the cutting-edge research?
Dr. MuÃ±oz: The U.S. is very fortunate to have the world's top institutions, and if this is to continue, it is imperative that NSF continues to fund not only world-class facilities but also the researchers, postdocs, graduate students and teaching faculty. But, it cannot end there“¦ we must continue to replenish the pipeline if we're going to continue to have the cadre of top people these facilities depend upon. For example, while OCI's new participation in CAREER and Graduate Research Fellowships awards is a step in a direction to meet the near-term requirements, more is needed. We need to increase public awareness and interest in science in general. and create an atmosphere where students will be engaged in science and mathematics at an early age.
TNNI: An idea being pushed by a number of thought leaders on cyber is that security protocols need to be built in to systems instead of added on afterwards. As OCI seeks to support ongoing research and development of cyber infrastructure resources and services, where does this fit in? How important is it that these features are built with the system?
Dr. MuÃ±oz: This is very important, and I think key to success in this area. Patchwork approaches leave cyber infrastructure open to further compromises requiring additional patchwork. Building in cybersecurity from the start and integrating it into the cyber infrastructure demands that you think about not only today's vulnerabilities, but that you must also create an environment that is adaptable and can respond to tomorrow's threats. The cyber infrastructure must address the cybersecurity aspects of a system today and be aware of the end-to-end performance of possible approaches. There is a tension between maximizing security and providing performance and open access. Arriving at the right balance makes cybersecurity, difficult in its own right, even more challenging.
TNNI: Much of the nation's cyber infrastructure is in private hands (some experts say around 85 percent). What advice would you give to private industry when thinking about improving security on their networks?
Dr. MuÃ±oz: Industry should make use of the security research being conducted at the various universities. We need to create laboratories that will enable promising security solutions to be tested at scale. Sometimes solutions that appear promising ‘in the small’ are not as attractive when scaled up to the kinds of projects and major facilities we see in today's networks. We need to explore hardware solutions as well as software approaches, where appropriate. Building industry/academic partnerships would help build a pipeline, and hence a talent pool, that could be used by industry.
TNNI: What issue is of greatest concern to you when thinking about the nation's cyber infrastructure and why?
Dr. MuÃ±oz: There is a comment from Churchill that I think is relevant: ‘We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.’ The cyber infrastructure that we are building will shape and direct what we can do with it in the future. Building an infrastructure that is sufficiently robust to support deep research, extensive collaboration, wide ranging educational initiatives as well myriad industrial uses while at the same time sufficiently open and flexible for the next generation to grow into and extend is one of the more significant challenges that we all need to keep in the forefront of planning for the future.
TNNI: What is something about yourself that most people would be surprised to learn?
Dr. MuÃ±oz: I love watching horror movies! Should not be surprising I equally enjoy science fiction movies–also superhero movies! I hope the latter best prepares me for my position at OCI.