Eco Science Cloud – community-led development

Eco Science Cloud – community-led development
September 7, 2017 Karen Mecoles

Enabling co-planning and community-led development to directly benefit ecoscience research

The Australian Eco Sciences Cloud is emerging as increasingly important digital infrastructure for the the Australian EcoSystems Science community. The project is a collaborative effort funded by NeCTAR, TERN and Atlas of Living Australia as the NCRIS domain partners, QCIF as the implementation partner, and NCI as a key collaborator.

Eco Sciences Cloud provides the ecosystem science community with improved access to domain-specific cloud-based tools, including virtual laboratories, research tools and platforms, via a single interface that links multiple data nodes and data service providers.

TERN users

Dr Siddeswara Guru, Australia Eco Science Cloud Data Science Director and Lead Technical Architect

Glenn Moloney, Nectar Director finds “EcoCloud is enabling researchers to interrogate national ecosystems datasets on a nationally accessible platform supporting their data science needs. Environmental science researchers can just come and do research with their own data, in addition to existing data collections already on the platform. This enables researchers to concentrate on the science without the overhead of dealing with complex IT systems.”

“Great innovation – such as the Eco Science Cloud – is possible when groups collaborate at the interface of different disciplines. With the Eco Science Cloud, we have new ways of making our large, complex, often messy, ecosystem datasets accessible so they can be used in new ways. This is possible because the cloud platform and tools are intersecting with environmental data.” Says Dr Beryl Morris, Director of TERN.

“Eco Science Cloud is highlighting the power of the Science Clouds as a model for bringing the community together and having a framework to collectively discuss and shape the infrastructure, as well as providing eResearch support and skills to meet the national and community research priorities.” said Kheeran Dharmawardena, Coordinator of the Science Clouds project at Nectar.

“It just made sense for QCIF to be the implementation partner in the Ecocloud project. It aligns well with QCIF’s strategic plan which is firmly focused on supporting research communities across our members. EcoScience and BioScience are the first two of those which directly align with two of the three Nectar Science Clouds,” says Dr Nigel Ward, Eco Science Cloud Project Manager. “A key advantage of the Eco Science Cloud is its governance environment which encourages co-planning by participating organisations. This is a big drawcard for many organisations keen to participate in infrastructure development that were traditionally frustrated by short term funding cycles.”

To better understand the specific requirements and how to maximise benefits for researchers, Eco Science Cloud sought broad input from across the ecosciences community to ensure the created solution would meet their needs when planning for the Eco Science Cloud commenced in 2015.

Data Users

eResearch. University of Adelaide (North Terrace) with Craig Walker and his team.

Eco Science Cloud users include ecoscience researchers at institutions, NCRIS capabilities as well as scientists within Commonwealth agencies such as CSIRO, State and Federal government departments responsible for land and heritage activities as well as the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics.

The Eco Science Cloud’s vision is to offer a managed platform that addresses 5 important goals:

  • Offer open data platform (harmonised cloud-enabled data infrastructure) for data interoperability with a simplified service model;
  • Offer data computational services next to data to minimise data movement;
  • Provide data accessibility to different research platforms and virtual labs from a common platform;
  • Offer a scalable managed computing environment with access to distributed and data-intensive computation technologies; and
  • Develop a support system for a cross-discipline use of data.

At a practical level, researchers require unhindered access to large data sets. Innovations in data capture technologies within the last decade have resulted in an explosion of the availability of high quality ecoscience data. While the usefulness of this data is irrefutable, data availability is often at the expense of data accessibility.

Leveraging data and compute infrastructure is a key data management advantage offered by the Eco Science Cloud. Prior to EcoScience Cloud, datasets were siloed, streamlined access was not available, requesting allocations and migrating data could be cumbersome and researchers frequently copied data to their own allocation. “Eco Science Cloud vision is to deliver a common data platform, accessible to compute, that enables researchers to leverage data sets rather than transferring them to their own allocations to use locally,” says Dr Siddeswara Guru, Australian Eco Science Cloud Data Science Director and Lead Technical Architect.

Scientific team setting up equipment during rainforest survey, Atherton Tableland, Queensland, Australia.

“Tools and data were always accessible – Eco Science Cloud is improving that accessibility. There’s huge opportunity for increased transparency and increased trust in research outcomes from using standardised tools and processes.” says Nigel.

Data discovery remains an important consideration. With many initiatives already underway in this space, the Eco Science Cloud is collaborating with grant-funded research infrastructure projects including ANDS and TERN as well as CSIRO and other organisations to leverage existing data discovery implementations to deliver a robust data brokering for access to data from different sources.

“Eco Science Cloud offers opportunities for multi-level collaboration by putting science domains in charge of resources and prioritisation” says Guru. Eco Science Cloud has accomplished a lot in a very short period of time; and there are more opportunities ahead.

“We’re keen to mature the existing services to build a scalable underlying infrastructure that will scale both vertically and horizontally,” says Guru. “The most exciting opportunities are those for collaboration between the Science Clouds themselves – initiatives such as implementing agnostic governance will be truly breaking new ground for both national and international eResearch eInfrastructure capabilities!”

“The Eco Science Cloud technology gives access to people beyond our own environmental disciplinary communities and with new and expanded user access, allows fresh ideas and insights – it is exciting to be part of it,” says Beryl. “We’ve always focussed on supporting research communities. Eco Science Cloud has drawn  the domain-specific NCRIS capabilities deeper into that conversation.” agrees Nigel.

“Eco Science Cloud is enabling co-planning and community-led development to directly benefit ecoscience research.” Says Guru.

NeCTAR has been proud to support the Eco Sciences Cloud from initial investment through to continued on-going support. We look forward to sharing their continued success as their current exciting developments mature. To learn more about the Eco Sciences Cloud, visit

Story: Loretta Davis