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Cornell University’s Red Cloud: A hybrid cloud model for academia



Aristotle Cloud Federation image (Aristotle with Rhodes Hall in Backgrou....jpg

To meet the high-end computing needs of faculty, researchers, and students, Cornell University Center for Advanced Computing (CAC) director David Lifka and his team believed hybrid cloud was the answer. Five years after the CAC rolled out Red Cloud, a subscription-based Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) hybrid environment, it’s safe to say they were right.

Red Cloud’s growth led Cornell University—along with the University of California, Santa Barbara, and the University at Buffalo—to win a National Science Foundation (NSF) award to develop a federated model for sharing data analysis and computing resources among scientific researchers. This federated model—called the Aristotle Cloud Federation—will create an extra layer of available resources for users to access before incurring additional costs with public cloud usage.

The university built Red Cloud on HPE Helion Eucalyptus, an on-premises IaaS software compatible with Amazon Web Services (AWS), enabling the CAC to carry out a cost-effective method for tapping into both private and public cloud resources.

The hybrid cloud strategy offered the best of all computing worlds, according to Lifka. By partnering with Hewlett Packard Enterprise, the university was able to get the outcomes it wanted: The ability to leverage public cloud and avoid investing in costly hardware.

An example of how the university is benefiting: Rather than deploying a separate hardware and software solution to run a study, Cornell scientists turned to the CAC to build a ready-to-run cloud image with all the server software needed, including BOVIA Discovery and Materials Studio. Using this image, they analyzed data from the first fully computational study of how environmental conditions impact carbon cycling enzymes that convert cellulose into biofuels. Scientists will continue to use this image, and a repository of other cloud images, to perform simulations and analyses on Red Cloud, and seamlessly burst to AWS to meet peak demands.

Cost recovery model pays off

Lifka uses an analogy for the financial model behind how Red Cloud delivers resources to users: If you want to help your teenager buy music on iTunes, you give them a gift card, not your credit card. Hybrid cloud enables Cornell to apply a similar principle: Red Cloud is available through subscriptions rather than pay-as-you-go, enabling departments to set limits on their usage and expenditures.

Moreover, Cornell’s cost recovery model—in which it bills faculty and other end users for its services, albeit at a discount—guarantees CAC achieves a return on its investment in Red Cloud and related programs. There’s no dead weight in the portfolio, according to Lifka.

Cornell University Quote.PNG


A repeatable model for resource optimization

Taking Red Cloud’s cost efficiency and resource optimization to the next level, the university is leading the Aristotle Cloud Federation program, building a nationwide federation of Eucalyptus-based hybrid clouds in academic research environments.

Under the program’s federated model, member institutions pool together computing and storage resources (called “data infrastructure building blocks”), enabling researchers to use them incrementally prior to bursting to a public cloud and incurring further costs. The Aristotle Cloud Federation has the potential to become a model for hybrid cloud partnerships and resource optimization—particularly in higher education.

Lifka expects hybrid cloud to become the go-to strategy for supporting academic research. “The beauty of the Aristotle Cloud Federation is that research collaborations drive federation partnerships,” he says. “Research colleagues connect across institutional boundaries and share resources. This helps everyone achieve better ‘time to science.’”


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