Nectar Response to article published in The Conversation on 5 September

Nectar Response to article published in The Conversation on 5 September
September 7, 2017 Karen Mecoles
cloud

Nectar Response to article published in The Conversation on 5 September

Nectar is providing a response to a number of points made in the article published in The Conversation on 5 September: Western Australian researchers get cut off from nationally funded research cloud; published in response to a communication from Nectar on 4 September 2017. A number of claims in the article are not supportable on the basis of that communication.

Nectar continues to support access to the Research Cloud for Western Australian researchers

The author claims that “Nectar has decided to close the door to WA researchers” and that “It is not clear how an organisation that has been funded to provide a national service can unilaterally decide not to provide Western Australia with those resources.”

It is clear from the communication to Research Cloud users that Nectar has made no such unilateral determination. Rather, Nectar and our operating partners are considering the implications of the withdrawal by Pawsey of the Research Cloud capital infrastructure and associated operating co-investment from Western Australian universities. The remaining resources in the Nectar Research Cloud are located in other states and supported by co-investment from universities in those states. Arrangements for access by WA researchers to those resources will clearly require further discussion with all stakeholders of the Nectar Research Cloud.

It remains the objective of Nectar to provide infrastructure to support the national collaboration needs of Australian researchers and we continue to work with the Pawsey Centre to manage the transition to these new arrangements in Western Australia. Delivering on this collaboration mission continues to rely on the support of our operating partners across Australia and co-investment from Australian research institutions.

The Nectar communication to Research Cloud users provided advice on options for Western Australian researchers to pursue access to cloud resources, including:

  • Access to the new Nimbus cloud at the Pawsey Centre;
  • Western Australian researchers will continue to access resource allocations granted to collaborating partners in other states.
  • Engagement with other node operators to agree access (possibly on a fee-for-services basis)
  • Some Research Cloud nodes have offered support for Western Australian participants in research collaborations of interest.
  • Western Australian universities may also explore opportunities to continue to invest in access through other Research Cloud node operators.

Nectar continues to provide access to resources for pre-existing allocations by Western Australian researchers at other nodes of the Research Cloud (over 600 virtual CPU cores). Western Australian researchers also continue to have access to the “Project Trial” allocations on the Research Cloud.

The author also notes that  “it would be good if WA could get back its share of the A$61 million to spend on these options”.

Nectar has not withdrawn any of our investment in supporting the needs of Western Australian researchers. Instead, Nectar has invested in cloud computing resources at the Pawsey Centre in Western Australia. Those resources have now been withdrawn from the Nectar Research Cloud and have been redeployed to support the new Nimbus Cloud at the Pawsey Centre. Nectar will continue to work with Western Australian stakeholders to explore the best options for continuing to support Western Australian researcher’s access to the Research Cloud.

Communication with Western Australian research cloud users

The article asserts that “This move has come as a surprise to institutions in WA, who as far as I have been able to tell, did not know that they were about to be cut off” and “The decision raises critical questions about how an entire state of Australia can be cut off from nationally funded research infrastructure?”

No decision has been taken by Nectar to “cutoff an entire state of Australia”. The decision by the Pawsey Centre to withdraw from the Nectar Research Cloud was communicated to Nectar and the users of the Western Australian Nectar node on 2 June 2017. Nectar has continued to work with the Pawsey Centre to manage the transition to the new arrangements in Western Australia; resulting in the communication to Research Cloud users on 4 September.

Commercial Cloud providers and the Nectar Research Cloud

Nectar agrees with the author that commercial cloud providers can and should be leveraged as efficient providers of services to support the needs of Australian researchers. Nectar has engaged with many commercial cloud providers in exploring support for Australian research needs.

We also recognise the value of in-sector cloud resource providers, like the Nectar Research Cloud and the new Nimbus cloud at the Pawsey Centre. In-sector clouds can leverage co-location with other research infrastructure and institutionally held research data. Nectar Research Cloud nodes benefit from co-location with national research networks, national and institutional high performance computing systems and research data repositories.

The value and cost-effectiveness of an in-sector cloud infrastructure has been demonstrated by tens of millions of dollars in additional investment from Australian universities and the emergence of similar science cloud infrastructures around the world.

Associate Professor Glenn Moloney

Director, Nectar.

Arrangements to support the Nectar Research Cloud and recent changes to those arrangements in Western Australia

Since 2012, Nectar has established a national Research Cloud infrastructure to support the collaboration needs of Australian researchers. The Research Cloud has been supported through deployments of Nectar funded computing equipment at eight operating partners across the states of Australia; supported by co-investment from research universities in all the states of Australia.

The objectives of the Research Cloud have been to provide a national interoperable and accessible computational platform on which Australian researchers may collaborate on shared problems across institutional and national boundaries; attracting over 11,000 registered users (over 200 new registered users per month), with thousands of other researchers using services, tools and data deployed on the Research Cloud.

Researchers at all Australian universities have benefited from access to the Nectar Research Cloud since January 2012. The deployment of the Research Cloud infrastructure was completed with the deployment of the Western Australian and New South Wales nodes in December 2014.

In June 2017 the Pawsey Centre advised Nectar of their intention to withdraw the Western Australian node from the Research Cloud. This would include re-purposing of the Nectar funded equipment to support a new national cloud infrastructure service called Nimbus that is integrated with the Pawsey HPC and storage infrastructure. The new cloud component of the national Pawsey service will be independent of the Nectar Research Cloud, but will use the same underlying cloud software (OpenStack), and will align with the recommendations of the infrastructure roadmap for an integrated data-intensive infrastructure system. Nimbus will be available to all Australian researchers using standard merit schemes.

On Monday 4 September Nectar sent a communication (https://nectar.org.au/changes-access-nectar-research-cloud-western-australian-researchers)  to all Research Cloud users notifying them of the withdrawal of the Pawsey node of the Research Cloud. The message noted that Nectar is considering the impact on continued access by Western Australian researchers to the cloud resources deployed in other Australian states, given the withdrawal of the capital infrastructure and operating co-investment at the Western Australian node.

The communication includes specific advice on options for Western Australian researchers to continue to receive support, including: the new Nimbus cloud service at the Pawsey Centre and options for access to resources at Nectar Research Cloud nodes in other states. Western Australian research institutions may also explore opportunities to continue to invest in access through other Research Cloud node operators.

It remains the objective of Nectar to provide infrastructure to support the national collaboration needs of Australian researchers and we continue to work with the Pawsey Centre to manage the transition to these new arrangements in Western Australia. Delivering on this collaboration mission continues to rely on the support of our operating partners across Australia and co-investment from Australian research institutions. The Research Cloud has continued to attract additional investment through the node operators and through direct investment in additional capacity by Australian research institutions.

More information about the Nectar Research Cloud is available at https://cloud.nectar.org.au.

For more information about Nectar see https://nectar.org.au.