⚙️ VRE: System details#

This page offers more details about the computational environment: what software is installed, how you can add new packages, and how you can replicate the software environment on other machines.

Hardware available

As this is a freely provided service, the per-user “hardware” available is limited. The limits are subject to change, but at time of writing they are:

  • 1 CPU

  • 3.5 GB RAM

  • 10 GB persistent storage

If you try running some hardware and quota inspection commands that you are used to running on physical *nix machines, you may be confused by the outputs - this is a result of the virtualisation within a cloud environment

Software available: Python packages#

To see the full list:

Open a Terminal (File/New/Terminal) and enter: conda list (or equivalently, mamba list)

VirES/EOX software#


Access to VirES server (download of Swarm products as pandas/xarray)


Optimised forward evaluation of Swarm geomagnetic models

Swarm community software#


CHAOS model forward code and geomag modelling utilities


AMPS model forward code

Wider geomagnetism and space physics community software#


Fetching data from HAPI servers


Apex and quasi-dipole coordinate transformations


Tools for space physics


Generating secular variation time series from ground observatory data

General Python software (highlights)#


Powerful analysis tool built around dataframes


For labelled multi-dimensional arrays


Geospatial data processing and maps


Flexible library for parallel computing

holoviz ecosystem

High level tools to simplify making complex visualisations


We are seeking to evolve this list, which involves a wider effort to increase portability of software. Generally speaking, to add a package here, we require it to be available through pip or conda and that the software be designed for portability (no large data packages included, and manageable dependencies) and that it is actively maintained. See below to try adding a package yourself to test it.

Installing other packages#

The default environment comes from a Docker image which is based on the Jupyter Notebook Scientific Python Stack (jupyter/scipy-notebook) - with our own extra software and configuration layered on top. This image is loaded when your container starts (i.e. when you log in). It will spin down when you are not using it and restart when you access it again (in its original unmodified state). If you try to install other software, it may not survive the container restart, depending on how you do it. In any case, you will only be affecting your environment. Unless you fully understand what you are doing, you are likely to run into problems trying to install and use other software. In this case, please get in touch if you are interested in having access to some particular software.

If you install some packages with conda install ... or pip install ..., this will indeed install them and make them available to the default kernel immediately. However, they will disappear the next time your container shuts down. When you have not been active for some period of time (<~hours), the container within which your environment is running will shut down. When you log in again, the environment is created anew from the image that everybody shares, so your modifications will no longer be present. This means that installing packages (& extensions) in this way is only sensible for briefly trying them out.

Managing custom environments#


In the instructions below, you can replace conda with mamba for faster performance

If you need access to a different collection of packages (e.g. you need a certain unsupported package, or different versions of what is available), then the way to achieve this is through creating an additional kernel, which you can then optionally use to execute scripts or notebooks, in place of the default kernel (the default one will also remain available). This procedure is not covered in full here, but in short:

conda create --prefix <kernelpath> ipykernel <package1> <package2> ...

will create a new conda environment (see the existing ones with conda env list).


See the conda documentation for more information on this. Note that to create the environment we must use --prefix rather than --name to specify the exact location (choosing the home directory), otherwise the environment location will default to /opt/conda/envs/ which is not permanent.

For example:

conda create --prefix ~/envs/my_env ipykernel numpy

will create an environment stored within ~/envs/ and called my_env, with the packages ipykernel (this is required in order to work with Jupyter notebooks), and numpy. This kernel then needs to be registered with Jupyter:

~/envs/my_env/bin/python -m ipykernel install --user --name my_env --display-name "my_env"

The kernel should now be available to use from within notebooks: when running a notebook, click the “Python 3” button near the top right to change the kernel, or from the top menu: Kernel / Change Kernel. You can also access the environment in a terminal with conda activate ~/envs/my_env. Since we have stored it in the home directory, it will not be lost when the container shuts down. You can see what kernels are installed and visible to Jupyter with jupyter kernelspec list.

A note on reproducability#

Execution environment:

An important scenario which is not fully supported by the VRE is ensuring reproducability of code in the future. The VRE is an evolving service which provides a single software environment which is updated over time. As newer versions of packages are installed, we can not guarantee that your code will run exactly the same in the future - this depends on the packages you use and how their behaviours and interfaces change over time. Managing your own custom conda environment as described above is one way to mitigate against this. The VRE as an easy-to-access environment where you can quickly experiment with things, share demonstrations of your code, run tutorials etc. For a detailed introduction to reproducability, please refer to The Turing Way. Another project which you may be interested in if you are working in geospace science is Resen which aims to tackle this issue of reproducability.

Data environment:

Aside from using a consistent software environment, input data must be identical between runs to ensure exact repeatability. VirES provides access to only the most recent available versions of data and models. This means that it is not possible to reproduce older results deterministically when using viresclient. The product version numbers are available within the data objects returned by viresclient, so you should record these when documenting and publishing your results. If you want to be able to repeat your analysis identically in the future (using the same product versions), we recommend you store the interim data returned by viresclient so that you are no longer relying on the VirES server.

Portability of the environment#

We would like to make it easier for you to run a compatible software stack on any machine (your laptop, workstation, or HPC etc.). While you can install viresclient within any Python environment and start accessing Swarm data, the exact combination of software and their versions means that a collaborator’s analysis code may not work the same within your environment. If both of you can share the same software stack, where one of you may work on the VRE for ease of use and the other may use an HPC system to run expensive computations, then it will make it easier to share analysis code. We are looking into solutions for how to do this reliably, given the differing requirements of institutional systems.