What Can The Cloud Do For Research?

In a separate article, What is the Cloud, we addressed what the cloud is and provided some examples of cloud-based services that nearly everyone uses. The cloud can also provide specific benefits to researchers. Leveraging the cloud is made easier, and less expensive, by taking advantage of University of Illinois contracts with cloud providers. The question becomes, why is cloud computing important to researchers.

Benefits of the Cloud

Procuring hardware, setting up physical computers, installing software, capacity planning. All of these challenges have been faced by researchers in the past. Planning for computing needs has long been a struggle that many face, not only when writing grants, but throughout the entire research lifecycle. Through the use of cloud computing resources, a number of these issues have been reduced or eliminated.  Here are just a few ways that cloud resources simplify some of the computing challenges researchers faced in the past:

  • Cost – With hourly costs for resources, you can save by shutting cloud servers down when you don’t need them. You also do not have to pay for hardware costs or hardware upgrades.
  • Scale – Would your application run well on ten nodes? Fifty? Ten thousand? Public cloud providers have the capacity you need, and only when you need them.
  • Speed – Most cloud computing vendors provide self-service setup. Rather than waiting for equipment to be shipped and set up, which can take weeks, a researcher can be up in running in a matter of minutes with only a few clicks of the mouse.
  • Elasticity – Have you found it difficult to forecast computing needs for the entire lifespan of your project? Will your usage change over time? In the cloud you can get exactly what you need exactly when you need it. Instead of having to constantly maintain dozens or hundreds of nodes for your most intensive usage, you can spin up and spin down the number of resources that you need, when you need them.
  • Management – Cloud services allow you to build on platforms managed by the cloud provider so you don’t have to spend your time with OS management, patching, or monitoring.
  • Reliability – Many cloud services also provide automatic back-ups and geographic isolation making disaster recovery stress-free and simple so you can rest easy knowing your data is safe.