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National Science Foundation-funded CloudBank Now Operational

Webinar on simplifying researcher access to public clouds to be held September 18

“We designed the CloudBank portal so that researchers would have a simplified interface to compare and access a variety of cloud provider services and monitor their spending across them in a unified dashboard.” said Shava Smallen, co-principal investigator and lead architect for the CloudBank user portal.

The San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC) at the University of California San Diego and its partners at the University of Washington (UW), UC Berkeley, and Strategic Blue have entered production operations of the National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded CloudBank program, which aims to simplify the use of public clouds across computer science research and education.

CloudBank is the result of a mid-2019 $5 million NSF award to SDSC and its partners to develop a suite of managed services to simplify public cloud access for computer science research and education. Over the past year, the CloudBank team has been working with public cloud providers, early users, project advisors, and the broader computer science community to develop the processes, tools, and education and outreach materials that address the plethora of pain points in making effective use of public clouds.

These initiatives included developing a broad understanding of capabilities available from providers, determining cost estimates for inclusion in NSF proposals, and assisting researchers in accessing the cloud and carrying the full range of user management and usage tracking that is critical for successful research and education programs.

“This transition to production operations is an important milestone for the project and represents the culmination of a lot of hard work by all our partners this past year,” said Michael Norman, SDSC director and CloudBank’s principal investigator. “I’m excited about where we are now, and look forward to the benefits that this innovative public-private partnership will bring to the research and education community.”

A webinar explaining what services and support CloudBank offers, and how to request resources via CloudBank in NSF proposals will be held on September 18. The webinar will include a demonstration of the CloudBank user portal, which is a centerpiece of the project. To register for this webinar please see: https://www.cloudbank.org/news.

CloudBank has been structured to support specific NSF Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE) solicitations that have an option for principal investigators to request public cloud resources as part of the proposal. Last year, the first of these, Smart and Connected Communities, was released as CloudBank-eligible. CloudBank is now working with the NSF to make the first award under this program.

Currently there are three additional open solicitations that can request cloud resources via CloudBank: Cyber-physical Systems, Cyberinfrastructure for Sustained Scientific Innovation, and the CISE Core Programs. CloudBank maintains a page of past and current NSF solicitations that are eligible under this program: https://www.cloudbank.org/eligible-nsf-solicitations.

“CloudBank is a first-of-its-kind pilot for NSF to explore how to incorporate public cloud resources into NSF programs in a way that is scalable and cost-effective,” said Deep Medhi, Program Director in the NSF’s Computer & Network Systems Division. “We know that public cloud resources play an increasingly important role in computer science research and education. Through CloudBank, we will gain a deeper understanding of what is required to make public clouds an integral element of NSF programs.”

“Understanding what the cloud has to offer, and how to use it in the lab or classroom can be daunting,” said Ed Lazowska, co-principal investigator and a professor in the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering at UW. “The team at UW has approached this by developing cloud-agnostic training materials, and working with providers to ensure we are making the best use of the extensive materials they have to offer. As we look ahead, our efforts will be focused on building the community of cloud practitioners with enhanced support, targeted training, and discussion forums where lessons learned can be shared.”

CloudBank has a mission to support multiple cloud providers, and while the user portal addresses this from the user perspective, there is significant complexity in working with providers in areas of contract negotiation, accounting, billing, and cost management. Through an innovative partnership with Strategic Blue, CloudBank is able to work with a single entity rather than each provider individually. This results in both operational and cost efficiencies that can be passed along to researchers.

“CloudBank has been designed with efficient cloud financial operations at its core. Strategic Blue’s role is to stretch the NSF’s research dollar as far as possible in the public cloud,” said James Mitchell, CEO of Strategic Blue. “We are working behind the scenes to provide researchers with the technical and financial support they need to keep within their budget, while leveraging the on-demand scalability the public cloud offers to researchers.”

The CloudBank award, funded under NSF grant 1925001, runs from August 1, 2019 through July 2024 (estimated). An NSF press release regarding the award can be found here. An FAQ on CloudBank is available at cloudbank.org.


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