Blog Post

Europe’s giant science cloud: give people data and good things happen

Europe this summer launched the “Helix Nebula” as a way to offer super cloud power to public sector research projects in fields like physics and disaster risk management. The so-called “science cloud, ” which is up and running thanks to creative cooperation between the public and private sector, is already providing valuable lessons for both scientists and governments.

Speaking at GigaOM’s Structure Europe conference in Amsterdam on Wednesday, Robert Jenkins of CloudSigma explained that “when you give people the data, you don’t know the end result but it comes up with a lot of positive outcomes.”

Jenkins gave the example of the World Health Organization tapping into data from the European Space Agency in order to improve mosquito eradication efforts in Nigeria. These type of collaborations are possible in part thanks to CloudSigma and other private companies that are helping to supply the computing power required to collect and parse data across Europe.

Ensuring that publicly funded-research produces public data has also resulted in an eco-system of small and media enterprises, according to Bob Jones of CERN who joined Jenkins at the event. Jones said this eco-system and the power of the cloud is producing the type of inter-disciplinary algorithms that are necessary to solve current science and policy problems.

Moderator Kris Tuttle, who is CEO of SoundView Technology Group, asked how to determine a common resource unit or module when working in such a vast “federated cloud.” Jenkins said the answer is to focus on deliverables rather than resource units, offering the example of a gene sequencing project in which the customer simply cares about how long it will take to get the job done rather than the specifics of the implementation process.

The speakers also noted that working in the European science cloud also provides practice and credibility for companies that want to serve private sector industries like finance, media and biotech.

Finally, the discussion produced some mind-boggling science stats like the fact that the Helix Nebula is now using 200,000 CPUs to continuously churn data. Jones also noted that maintenance windows are 18 months due to the fact that much of the work is occurring near a temperature of 270 kelvin — meaning that machines have to be slowly warmed up from a state of near absolute zero.

Check out the rest of our Structure Europe 2012 coverage here. A video recording of the session follows below.