The OCRE ProjectThe Open Clouds for Research Environments project (OCRE) aims to accelerate cloud adoption in the European research community. It does so by bringing together cloud providers, Earth Observation (EO) organizations, and the research and education community. Cloud-based services can offer the European research community a wealth of powerful tools. Unfortunately, for many researchers, these are currently out of reach, with suitable services difficult to find and select. The OCRE project addresses this need through ready-to-use service agreements and €9.5 million in adoption funding. As a recipient of an OCRE IaaS+ framework agreement, CloudSigma is one of the providers that will facilitate easing the access to commercial cloud services for researchers and research institutions in 40 European countries.
The OCRE Cloud Framework and OCRE Cloud Catalogue support state-of-the-art research and explore new ways forward for procuring, funding, and using in-demand digital solutions while benefiting from volume discounts. You can find CloudSigma’s contact details and services here.
One of the first research projects that was awarded a CloudSigma voucher through OCRE’s initial cloud voucher program was the Department of Biological and Medical Sciences at Oxford Brookes University.
The specific research project employing CloudSigma’s cloud services deals with the regenerative power of the cells of certain species using single-cell sequencing techniques. In particular, the team of researchers is studying how different species of worm regrow parts of their body after injury. To do that the team generates extremely large files of single-cell sequencing data. Then, the researchers employ cloud services to perform a series of computational steps that extract the information they need from the large data files.
In the beginning, the scientists used only local computational resources. However, as the project required large amounts of storage and CPU-intensive processing, the resources quickly became limiting. Thus, the possibility to take advantage of a cloud-based solution was very attractive.
In addition, as this is a university-funded project, the researchers had to use server resources that were shared with other users. This caused friction with other scientists, who had to work around the resources taken up by the big and chunky files used in this single-cell sequencing project. As such, one of the biggest bottlenecks the team faced was getting access to the resources that other people needed to use at the same time.
Another issue, which is common among university-based research projects was that the institution required the team to be as cost-efficient as possible, and not pay for resources and services they don’t use.
An additional challenge faced by the project members was the need to be able to quickly spin up multiple instances. That’s because in order to obtain the required research results, the scientists need to perform repetitive tasks with large data files, which could become very resource-intensive.
More than that, the scientists’ IT knowledge is mostly self-taught. Thus, they required experienced technical support at hand to assist them with potential issues when working in the cloud.
When learning about the OCRE voucher program, the researchers from Oxford Brookes University were given the opportunity to select between two cloud service alternatives. After looking at the offerings of both companies, they were certain that CloudSigma offered a more flexible and customizable cloud solution. This made their decision easy.
“I got an email from the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Alumni Association about the OCRE voucher program. It sounded great because I have been using local computational resources, but they get limiting quickly. So, having the ability to use cloud-based solutions was great. Then, I compared CloudSigma and the alternative cloud provider. From your website, it seemed that CloudSigma was much more easily customizable. So, I wouldn’t be paying for things that I wasn’t using if that makes sense.”
Thanks to CloudSigma’s powerful and agile cloud solution, the research project took off much more quickly and efficiently. Another advantage of CloudSigma proved to be our helpful personal account manager and the 24/7 free technical support team.
“Before moving to the cloud, we encountered bottlenecks in terms of access to resources that other scientists wanted to use at the same time. Having CloudSigma’s scalability, being able to spin up multiple instances simultaneously, helped us solve that problem in a really efficient way.”Dr. Nathan J. Kenny, Postdoctoral Fellow @ Oxford Brookes University, Department of Biological and Medical Sciences
“I have some IT experience, but it’s self-taught, so having skillful tech support available 24/7 is great. I can get to a point and I can normally explain the problem that I’m having, but not necessarily know how to solve it. So having that higher-level knowledge at my fingertips is extremely useful.”
Having support along the way also helped the team start with the cloud easily. Even though they encountered some difficulties during the initial setup of the infrastructure, they received a thorough walk-through of the platform and were able to get the servers up and running quickly.
Тhe first part of the implementation process consisted of the activation of the OCRE voucher. It turned out to be an easy setup. Тhe team was able to access the funds of the voucher within a couple of hours after obtaining it.
“Our CloudSigma account manager was very helpful with the voucher activation process. We have actually been lucky to get access to a couple of vouchers – we have been making full use of them, and they are great.”
“I have worked with the Amazon cloud before, and CloudSigma is significantly easier. The barriers to entry are very high on the Amazon servers in terms of the number of pages you have to troll through, to work out how to do what you want to do. There is no such issue in CloudSigma.” Dr. Nathan J. Kenny, Postdoctoral Fellow @ Oxford Brookes University, Department of Biological and Medical Sciences
When it comes to moving the data to our cloud platform, the process proved to be easy and straightforward as well.
“Having sudo access essentially, and being able to install software and fiddle with the platform settings and set up the R program in the way that I wanted and needed to use it, was straightforward and quite nice.”
In addition, the first steps of working in the cloud are always facilitated as much as possible by CloudSigma’s friendly team of account managers and free 24/7 technical support. Our skilled support team is always ready to help customers and walk them through any issues they are not able to solve.
One of the main researchers for the project who actively uses CloudSigma’s solution has had previous experience in the cloud, but working with CloudSigma turned out to be a much smoother process.
Ever since working with CloudSigma, the research team has been able to carry on their research more efficiently and much quicker. Currently, their deployment is relatively stable. Having cloud resources at hand enabled the scientists to cope with the usually hard to predict nature of research and lab work, as it is hard to predict when the project results and data sets get delivered.
“I don’t have any control over when scientists finish things in the wet lab and send them. Generally, things are predictable, but sometimes I have a bit of a burst where everything comes at once. So, again, having that scalability is really useful for dealing with it.” Dr. Nathan J. Kenny, Postdoctoral Fellow @ Oxford Brookes University, Department of Biological and Medical Sciences
There is no doubt that adopting the cloud enabled the researchers to conduct their experiments with more agility and flexibility. At the same time, they received faster and vastly improved outcomes.
Furthermore, working with the OCRE voucher program made it easier for the team to plan and get adequate funding for their research.
“Working with the cloud vouchers allows us to plan better. We were able to deal with the issues of the university’s administration and purchasing process, which can sometimes be frustrating. With the vouchers, you can buy them in advance. Then, you can use them when you need to which makes things much easier.”
More than that, working with the cloud was very easy to navigate even for the complete newbies in the project. A big reason for this was CloudSigma’s intuitive web browser-based GUI, and user-friendly web app. The researchers were also able to take advantage of our extensive library of supplemental resources such as various video and blog tutorials, and other instructional materials that helped them use the cloud with confidence and ease.
In fact, the research team was so happy with the outcome of working with our cloud services that since then they have received funding to become a cloud-user outside of the OCRE voucher program.
“We are extremely satisfied with working with CloudSigma. As someone who has used a cloud solution before, I expected a higher learning curve to using CloudSigma. However, that was not the case – it was much easier than what I anticipated.” Dr. Nathan J. Kenny, Postdoctoral Fellow @ Oxford Brookes University, Department of Biological and Medical Sciences
As for the future, there is no doubt that the team of researchers will continue using CloudSigma. Actually, one of the main scientists plans to start a new project in New Zealand. There, he will continue to use CloudSigma’s servers for his new research endeavors. At the same time, the current research group will continue to use CloudSigma for the initial project they started.
All in all, the collaboration proved to be successful on all ends. Furthermore, it will only continue to be growing to other projects. The OCRE initiative is a huge step forward towards easing access to commercial cloud services for researchers and research institutions. The OCRE framework would have tremendous benefits to the research community and society as a whole.
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