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Working with Warwick, Cardiff, Swansea and Birmingham on Cloud HPC Part 3 of 3: The cloud

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The HPC cloud being used by CLIMB enables researchers to spend more time doing research, and less on installing software and downloading data from multiple, disparate data sources.

In previous blogs, I’ve discussed the technology supporting the CLIMB system, and the research being conducted on CLIMB. In this blog, I intend to focus on why a cloud infrastructure is so valuable for scientific research.

The challenge faced by many researchers, not just bioinformaticians, is being able to replicate research across different systems. Scientific researchers spend a lot of time writing code and developing applications for an HPC system that can interrogate data in a way that they need.

These bespoke software applications are notoriously difficult to replicate and share – what may work on one HPC system, won’t necessarily work on another. It’s often quicker for a researcher to simply write a new application from scratch than to try and make existing applications or scripts work on their system.

The vision behind the Cloud Infrastructure for Microbial Bioinformatics (CLIMB) was the ability to be able to share not just data, but software applications. Scientific data, according to Dr Thomas Connor, Senior Lecturer at Cardiff University, should be open so that data is freely available to access and use. You can’t do that if data is stored on closed local systems.

By using containers, or Virtual Machines (VMs), this problem can be overcome by creating a mechanism to share software and data within a single cloud environment. By enabling researchers to share their software and data in this way, it frees up researchers to spend more time doing research, and less on installing software and downloading data from multiple, disparate data sources.

The individual machines making up CLIMB across the four universities are all now up and running, and the next stage is to connect them all up to be a multi-site system with single sign-on. Researchers will be able to spin up a VM and the data and software will be available anywhere on the system.

It’s a different way of thinking, but it has the potential to empower much more collaborative research.

The technology supporting the cloud infrastructure is a fully open source version of OpenStack, which we, OCF, will be supporting. The real value of having an open source version is that we can stay on top of the latest developments in the system as well as modify it to fit the needs of researchers.

An added benefit is that the wider research community can also contribute to the system, meaning CLIMB is a system that can fit all of their research needs.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on CLIMB – is the cloud the way forward in scientific research?

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