Science community looks to the cloud for big data management

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Often referred to simply as the "Science Cloud," the Helix Nebula is the end result of a huge collaboration between big science and big business in Europe. And it is building bigger still as plans to open massive stores of content take shape.

On the science side of the collaboration are such esteemed research centers as the European Organization for Nuclear Research, or CERN, the European Molecular Biology Laboratory, or EMBL, and the European Space Agency, or ESA.

Indeed, applications demonstrated on the Helix Nebula were those used in support of the Higgs Boson discovery that rocked the world last week. Specifically, the Science Cloud was used to support the computing capacity needs for the ATLAS experiment, which is one of the flagship applications used to compute the Large Hadron Collider findings on the Higgs Boson particle.

The Higgs Boson discovery wasn't the only huge project churning within this massive public cloud. EMBL used it to set up a new service to simplify large-scale genomic analysis, primarily for work in evolution and biodiversity. Meanwhile, ESA was using it to create its Earth Observation platform which focuses on earthquake and volcano research.

"Setting up sufficiently powerful computing infrastructures for genome analysis in the cloud is not trivial. Hence, we are very happy with the initial results from the proof of concept," said Paul Flicek, head of vertebrate genomics at EMBL's European Bioinformatics Institute. "These are important milestones towards making our software available to scientists worldwide later during the Helix Nebula pilot phase."

And EMBL isn't the only partner looking forward to sharing content in future collaborations. Almost all of the science partners have similar content-sharing plans.

"ESA has successfully tested large-scale data processing and dissemination from its radar satellites (ERS, Envisat) using different cloud provider infrastructures," said Volker Liebig, director for ESA Earth observation programmes. "The results have demonstrated that these applications can run on multiple providers, despite using different technologies."

"Thanks to these cloud assets and the modern communication tools, the global science community will be able to better exploit ESA's large-scale data archive covering 20 years of Earth observation and foster collaboration of science communities working in different domains," he added.

Other scientific content will be searchable and usable by the scientific community at large as well. Such diversity and abundance of data presents historic opportunities for positive change around the globe and in multiple industries and scientific disciplines.

The initiative was designed to support the European Commission's Digital Agenda for Europe which is to say that it "stresses a unified approach to data protection regulations and lightweight, efficient governance," according to the multi-agency joint press release. "It also has ambitions to support European economic development by making its services available to the wider community."

Helix Nebula has received €1.8 million funding from the European Commission. All members of the consortium provide in-kind resources, such as data, communities and tools, and manpower or technology knowledge, in order to create the ecosystem. All cloud resources actually used by any partner are paid for by that partner.

Helix Nebula current participants are, according to the press release, Atos, Capgemini, CERN, CloudSigma, Cloud Security Alliance, CNES, CNR IRIA, DLR, EMBL, ESA, European Grid Infrastructure, Interoute, Logica, the OpenNebula Project, Orange Business Services, SAP, SixSq, Telefonica, Terradue, Thales, The Server Labs, Trust-IT and T-Systems. But the initiative welcomes even more scientific organizations and service providers to join.

For more:
- see the Helix Nebula website
- see this CERN Higgs Boson press release
- see the EMBL website
- see the ESA portal

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