Researchers win grant to revolutionize computer science research

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A team of scientists from UC Berkeley, UC San Diego and the University of Washington won a five-year $1 million dollar grant last month from the National Science Foundation, or NSF, to develop CloudBank, a program that will simplify public cloud access for researchers and educators.

The grant went into effect Aug. 1 and will allow scientists to develop a suite of software, outreach, training materials and aids for negotiating and delivering public cloud services — which will help scientists more easily navigate the cloud and learn how to best use their resources, according to the NSF.

“Every semester thousands of students in dozens of courses have all the computing power they might need by simply opening a notebook in a browser,” said UC Berkeley researcher David Culler in an email. “Berkeley’s role in CloudBank is to make it possible for universities throughout the country to bring this sort of capability to their students.”

The services will be available and accessible for both novice and advanced cloud users and will include options to help researchers cut costs. 

The main goal of CloudBank is to increase the accessibility and impact of cloud computing across all levels of computing research. According to University of Washington researcher Ed Lazowska, the programming is also designed to push universities in the direction of cloud computing, which he believes to be the future.

“We are doing god’s work: helping researchers adopt cloud computing,” Lazowska said in an email. “We are not doing research, we are transforming the way research is done.”

The project arose under the West Big Data Innovation Hub, a subsection of the NSF that the University of Washington, UCSD and UC Berkeley have been leading. According to Lazowska, the West Big Data Innovation Hub serves broker partnerships between academia, government and industry and uses data science to solve societal problems. He added that the partnership between the three schools on CloudBank was natural and will be a huge step for the field of data science.

Eventually, Lazowska said, the project could revolutionize all of science, not just computer research. The next steps, however, are to foster relationships with the management of public clouds and distribute educational materials to researchers and educators, according to Lazowska.

“This is a ‘service project’ rather than a ‘research project,’” Lazowska said in an email. “We – UW, Berkeley, and UCSD – undertook this because it is important to the scientific enterprise, and because we were best positioned to do it right.”

Contact Kate Finman at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @KateFinman_DC.