This article looks at a multimillion-dollar grant awarded to Indiana University (IU) for the creation of an academic research cloud, after first exploring IU’s relationship with supercomputers. It covers the following topics:
- Big Red II: Supercomputers Versus Cloud
- Jetstream: Jet Packs for Research
- Superb Internet: Cloud Sans Confusion
Big Red II: Supercomputers Versus Cloud
Indiana University is well-deserving of research funds in the area of cloud computing. The institution is a center for high-speed information technology. Its Bloomington headquarters is the home of Big Red II, a supercomputer that is theoretically capable of 1 petaFLOP, equivalent to 1000 trillion floating-point operations per second. It is one of the most high-performing research supercomputers on the planet, and it helps researchers in diverse university departments – including medicine, fine arts, and global climate research – access information more quickly, and process big data more seamlessly.
I often reference the case of Indiana University because its leadership is clearly interested in supercomputing but advocates the cloud as well. Geoffrey C. Fox, PhD, who serves as the associate dean of research at IU’s School of Informatics & Computing and directs its Digital Science Center, told the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) last year that cloud fits biomedical research (one field Jetstream will service) perfectly. Research on life-threatening diseases requires incredible resources to quickly and reliably crunch data, but it does not necessitate the configurations that are unique to supercomputers.
Fox told the AAMC that one of the most obvious strengths of cloud computing is flexibility. You don’t have any limits but can get the resources on-demand: “If you need 1000 computers to analyze your data, clouds offers that.” Fox said that he thinks cloud is the most affordable type of computing as well. The real clincher, though, was a comment mentioned somewhat offhandedly by the AAMC: Fox said that the high availability (HA) of distributed virtualization allows it to “often” achieve better processing rates than are experienced with supercomputing.
As a forerunner in the field of high-speed computing, Indiana University is prepared to put a $6.6 million grant it received from the National Science Foundation to good use.
Jetstream: Jet Packs for Research
Thousands of researchers at educational and public-sector institutions across the country will have immediate access to a high-echelon computing platform through a $6.6 million grant from the National Science Foundation.
As indicated by a November 24 press release, IU’s Pervasive Technology Institute was awarded the grant to develop Jetstream, the first cloud built by the NSF for research in the science and engineering fields. In fact, the millions of dollars already awarded are part of a total $11 million package that will be delivered through 2019 to design, deploy, and manage Jetstream. Although the cloud system will be built and controlled in some senses by Indiana University, it will be made available to researchers around the United States.
Jetstream fosters ease-of-use and access, so that research teams have access to computational tools and immediate raw processing power on their PCs and mobile devices. Users will access the cloud platform via various virtual machines, with access to newly developed cloud research tools provided by third parties.
The Pervasive Technology Institute is particularly notable not just for its innovation, according to Indiana University President Michael A. McRobbie, but for its “record of highly successful collaboration with other leading research centers nationally.”
Brad Wheeler, the CIO at the university, compared Jetstream to the Easy Button from the Staples commercials. He noted that the cloud system will allow access from cell phones, tablets, and personal computers, so that the most relevant and full-featured software is at researchers’ fingertips. The cloud environment, which will also be accessible to students, will particularly be valuable “as research becomes more sophisticated with big data and computation,” said Wheeler.
The basic idea behind Jetstream is to be of service to researchers who have been held back in the past by lack of computing power.
A jetstream is the place where two distinct air masses meet, explained Craig Stewart, executive director of the Pervasive Technology Institute. The research cloud was given its name because it will interface (serving as a border similar to a jetstream) between current National Science Foundation cyberinfrastructure and thousands of additional researchers. Stuart is confident that the system will be popular: “It will apply cloud computing approaches to advance important scientific research.”
Indiana University is not the only organization involved in the Jetstream project, in fact. Several of the other major partners include:
- University of Arizona
- University of Chicago
- University of Texas (both Austin and San Antonio locations)
Superb Internet: Cloud Sans Confusion
The Pervasive Technology Institute (PTI) is no stranger to multimillion-dollar federal funding. In fact, PTI has been awarded over $50 million by the NSF since the turn of the century. The National Science Foundation has repeatedly funded PTI to help bolster the nationwide research cyberinfrastructure because the foundation trusts the expertise at IU, limiting the possibility of confusion.
Like the NSF and Indiana University, we believe cloud should be easy to understand and easy to use. Plus, customers love us: “Quick and effective,” commented Marlyne Israelian. Start for Free today with a “Pay What You Use” Flex Cloud VM.
By Kent Roberts
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