Forecast: Cloud computing is on the horizon for UO scientists

Image of Allen Malony, computer scienceComputing power for key research areas will soon be in the clouds for University of Oregon scientists working to connect the dots of basic understanding to real world applications through integrative science.

By late Spring 2011, a team led by Allen Malony, professor of computer and information science, will have a "cloud computing" system in place, thanks to a $1.97 million grant from the National Science Foundation. The grant was awarded last spring under the American and Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009.

The new system — an Applied Computational Instrument for Scientific Synthesis (ACISS, which is pronounced "axis") — will be housed in the Computing Center and will be managed as a partnership between Information Services, which provides central computing support for campus, and College of Arts and Sciences Information Technology.

"One way to look at cloud computing is simply as the access to computing tools, services and utilities using a World Wide Web interface," says Malony. "Cloud" implies that access is as easy as looking at clouds in the sky, he says, and the environment itself is ubiquitous — there are clouds as far as the eye can see.

"The ACISS system is at the forefront of a revolution to apply cloud computing for scientific investigation," Malony says. "Building on technological advances in multi-core processing and GPU computing, ACISS will be realized as a private science cloud offering the most powerful computing resources yet at UO in pursuit of research discoveries in biology, physics, chemistry, human brain science and computer science."

In general, Malony says, the goal of cloud computing is to improve a user's productivity while providing all their computing needs.

ACISS fits in nicely with the potential of integrative science, allowing researchers to explore and understand often-seemingly-different scientific domains can indeed be related. The ACISS cloud cluster — powered by open-source cloud software infrastructure — will provide for hundreds of terabytes of storage space, thousands of processing cores, high-performance computational accelerators and high-speed integrated InfiniBand network interfaces.

All that computing power, according to the grant's goals, will help provide analysis and data-crunching tools that will benefit a variety of projects, including:

• Biologist Shawn Lockery's efforts to study how behavior relates to activity in the brain through his data-rich approach using video microscopes for non-invasive studies of nematode worms as they freely crawl around in his already groundbreaking experimental approach.

• Computer scientist John Conery's cross-disciplinary efforts in bioinformatics to manage and analyze gene sequence data, including projects that correlate genes in model organisms with their counterparts in humans to help researchers better understand the genetic causes of human diseases.

• Biologist William Cresko's analysis of genes as they function under environmental influences in threespine stickleback and other fish species, work that will provide fundamental insights into the evolution of developmental processes.

• Work in neuroinformatics by Malony, psychologist Don Tucker and computational physicist Sergei Turovets to create a new human brain-imaging instrument that can accurately monitor activity within specific tissues of a subject's brain.

• Chemistry research on the physics of macromolecular liquids (vital in biology and engineering) by Marina Guenza's group (chemistry), what happens to the molecular properties of water surfaces under a variety of environmentally and technologically important conditions by Geri Richmond's research group (chemistry) and research on the mechanisms of various chemical reactions such as nitrogen fixation and how such knowledge might be applied by Robert Yelle (Neuroinformatics Center).

• Physicist James Imamura's efforts to understand the structure and variations in the behavior of early and late star systems and planetary development by modeling the evolution of circumstellar disk systems (the accumulation of dust, gas, and nascent planets orbiting stars) and the stability of shock waves on star surfaces.

"The benefit of the NSF award and ACISS system to the state of Oregon builds on the concept of cloud computing," Malony says. "Not only will UO researchers have access to a powerful computing environment, by extension so too will their scientific colleagues at Oregon universities engaged in collaborative projects. The cloud-computing model encompasses the notion of clouds interacting with other clouds to enhance their services and expand their resources. The ACISS project is a bellwether for the future of computing throughout Oregon's education institutions."

Co-principal investigators on the grant with Malony are Conery, Lockery, Guenza and Tucker.

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