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GCN : February 2014
CASE STUDY CLOUD COMPUTING 28 GCN FEBRUARY 2014 • GCN.COM In 2014, NCI plans to award contracts for three cloud com- puting environments that will house a new data set --- the Cancer Genome Atlas --- that is expected to be 2.5 petabytes in size. The so-called cancer clouds will not only serve as a central repository for genomics data but also will provide a standard ap- plication programming interface (API) and tools for researchers to use in analyzing the data. NCI s goal for the cloud initia- tive is to democratize access to cancer genomics data to advance the treatment of cancer. The agency s biomedical data sets are becoming so large that it is too expensive for most universities and pharmaceutical companies to invest in powerful-enough computers and large enough net- works to download the data sets and process them locally, as is common practice today. Instead, NCI is looking for cloud-based architectures that would allow researchers to access the data sets via a Web browser and analyze them remotely. Then researchers would only would need the local bandwidth and processing power required to download results, which will be much smaller data sets. "We want the smart gradu- ate student or the smart postdoc who has an idea for a novel way of analyzing data to be able to relatively quickly write a piece of software to do analysis on the data and run it inexpensively, said George Komatsoulis, interim director of NCI s Center for Bio- medical Informatics and Infor- mation Technology. "Now this person would need $2.5 million of hardware and wouldn t gener- ate an answer for a year. A SHIFT IN RESEARCH Komatsoulis says the bottom- line return on the NCI Cloud Initiative will be better outcomes for cancer patients. "By making this investment, we are making the data that we collect more useful, more widely available, and we will get a much larger group of people looking at it for clues to how we can improve the treatment of cancer, he said. By creating a shared reposi- tory of data that is open to all researchers, the NCI Cloud Ini- tiative represents a fundamental shift in cancer research. "The mindset is really chang- ing, says Subha Madhavan, di- rector of the Innovation Center for Biomedical Informatics at Georgetown University Medical Center. "What we ve been doing for the last 10 years is bring the data to the tools, which were on cli- ent/server architectures at uni- versities and pharmaceutical re- search labs. But you can t do that anymore because the majority The National Cancer Institute is building a cloud-based repository for 2.5 petabytes of genomics data that will provide tools for open data access to all cancer researchers NCI democratizes cancer reserach data BY CAROLYN DUFFY MARSAN The biomedical research community has identi ed six priorities that that need to be met in the development of the NCI Cloud Initiative: Data access Computing capacity Data interoperability Training Usability Governance 6 key challenges for the cancer cloud 1 2 3 4 5 6