Cloud for Aussie researchers now live

Part of the government's $23 million initiative to streamline ICT research processes

The Australian Government's National eResearch Collaboration Tools and Resources (NeCTAR) project to build new infrastructure for Australian researchers has sent its collaborative Cloud platform live.

The NeCTAR Research Cloud, an Australian first according to the NeCTAR director, Glenn Moloney, will provide researchers with instant access to scalable computational power and research applications. Access to storage will also enable them to share information across different research infrastructure and institutions on a national and international scale.

“The Research Cloud provides for the first time a truly national, collaborative, self-service ICT platform for researchers to deploy and share research applications and tools, supporting cross-institutional access and collaboration,” Moloney told Computerworld Australia.

“The Research Cloud will be an open platform, accessible by all Australian researchers and their colleagues anywhere in the world.”

When asked why researchers would use the Research Cloud instead of a commercial service, Moloney said the former’s Cloud infrastructure is better capable of handling large research data and application loads, while offering lower connectivity costs across a number of institutions.

“Modern research places significant demands on ICT infrastructure, which may not be supported by current commercial Cloud infrastructures, such as low-cost, high bandwidth access to data to support the high throughput computing demands of modern science applications,” Moloney said.

“The NeCTAR Research Cloud delivers value to Australian researchers beyond that available from existing commercial Cloud services by linking closely with other strategic research infrastructure investments by the Australian government.

“The NeCTAR Cloud is also deployed at sites with substantial connectivity to the Australian Research and Education Network (AREN), which provides connectivity to Australian research institutions and facilities at substantially lower cost than commercial providers.”

Moloney said the Research Cloud is partnering with the Australian government funded Research Data Storage Initiative (RDSI) and Australian National Data Service (ANDS) to provide Cloud users with access to significant Australian research data holdings.

However, he added that NeCTAR is also looking at partnering with commercial providers to deliver “future capacity” to the Research Cloud.

“We expect that in future, commercial service providers may be significant partners in an Australian national Research Cloud,” he said.

The first node of the Cloud was built by the University of Melbourne and commissioned on January 31, with further nodes to be commissioned by other research institutions throughout 2012.

It is expected to comprise up to 24,000 CPU cores across six sites in Australia and will deploy OpenStack-based Cloud technology to support data intensive research.

NeCTAR called on the Australian research community in September 2011 to submit project proposals to build one aspect of its four program areas: Virtual labs, eResearch tools, Research Cloud and the National Servers Program (NSP).

The NSP, a hosting service for applications and services supporting the Australian research community on a national scale, is currently available. The first node (two data centres) of the hosting provider was built by the University of Melbourne and is housed in its grounds.

More than 80 project proposals across a broad range of disciplines were received in November 2011, with a panel that consisted of research experts nominated by the Australian research community evaluating each proposal in December 2011. One third of the submitted proposals, worth $23 million, were chosen by the group to receive funding by NeCTAR.

Successful proposals were announced in mid-January 2012, including the ‘Virtual Geophysics Laboratory’ by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, ‘Climate and Weather Science Laboratory’ by the Bureau of Meteorology, and ‘Federated Archaeological Information Management System’ by the University of NSW.

The projects are expected to be completed by December 2013.

NeCTAR is a $47 million project, conducted as part of the Australian government's Super Science initiative and financed through the Education Investment Fund.

Follow Diana Nguyen on Twitter: @diananguyen9

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU

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