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Cloud bursting is on the horizon for universities series: part 1

Through our work with universities in the UK, we are seeing that cloud bursting is revolutionising university research. A lot of universities are now engaging in using cloud bursting and are regularly taking advantage of public cloud infrastructures that are now widely available by large companies like Amazon, Google and Microsoft.

Some of you may know already, the concept of cloud bursting essentially came out of spare capacity that Amazon had on its massive server farms whilst running its websites.

These massive server farms were built to meet particularly high demands at times like Christmas and Black Friday, but the rest of the time they sat idle, so the idea was created to sell that spare capacity.

This has since grown into a whole business otherwise known as infrastructure as a service (IaaS). Instead of having to buy your own kit and run your own services, you can rent time on someone else’s server and use their data centre resources.

There is no longer a need to worry about power and electricity costs, data centre space or system administrator’s fees, as you pay a subscription cost to the IaaS company who will do it all for you.

Move towards cloud services

We are finding the uptake of the public cloud in universities has already happened, particularly when providing core IT services.

By using Office 365, rather than an in-house email server, a university is utilising capacity in the cloud, so instead of having a rack of servers and system administrators to run their email service, it has become a full service from the public cloud for all of the university’s users.

That’s probably where the biggest uptake started and since then we have seen there has been the realisation that at some point in the future, these cloud services are likely to be cheaper to run than buying your own equipment and running it all in-house.

In general, there has certainly been enthusiasm to move towards cloud services and out of that came the OpenStack revolution, which is seen by many as the best of both worlds.

You get a ‘cloud-like’ service with the ability to provision whatever type of server you want as a virtual machine, but with the advantage of it being onsite, giving you the control, privacy and data sovereignty.

For example, many organisations prefer not to put HR data on the cloud, but if you have OpenStack onsite, you have a flexible compute platform where the HR data can sit idly for most of the month, and then for the five days it has to work hard, it can burst out to the rest of the infrastructure; helping everything run more efficiently and quickly for that crucial time of the month.

Providers of Research Computing Infrastructure have been keen to take advantage of the flexibility and security OpenStack provides and OCF projects such as eMedLab and CLIMB  are two very successful examples of this showing that private cloud has an established use for many universities.

But what about the public cloud?  Read more about this in part two, soon to follow

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