NeCTAR research cloud spreads across Australia

New cloud nodes are being prepared in what project director believes to be a world-first cloud serving multiple organisations.

New nodes of the Australian research cloud NeCTAR are in development as the A$47 million project spreads to embrace universities across Australia.

In total there will be nine NeCTAR research cloud nodes. In June, Monash University and the Queensland Cyber Infrastucture Foundation (QCIF) joined a national node and a university node at the University of Melbourne.

Nodes are also being readied at Western Australia’s  iVEC (a joint venture of CSIRO and four public universities), the University of Tasmania, eResearch South Australia and NCI, the National Computational Infrastructure at Australian National University in Canberra.

Associate professor Glenn Moloney of the University of Melbourne, and NeCTAR project director, said as far as he is aware, the project is a world-first in using a private cloud to serve multiple organisations.

When all nodes are commissioned, NeCTAR will boast 32,000 CPU cores, he said.

NeCTAR, which stands for National e-Research, Collaboration, Tools and Research, was one of a portfolio of investments made by Australia’s Federal government to renew research infrastructure after the global financial crisis, in part made as a form of stimulus, Maloney said.

Other projects included the Square Kilometre Array distributed radio telescope, supercomputers at ANU and in Perth and the IMOS integrated marine observing system.

NeCTAR is designed as a collaboration platform for e-research to span those projects, Australia’s universities and possibly even to reach organisations such as CSIRO.

Moloney said because of the reach of the project beyond any individual university’s borders, the universities couldn’t build such a system for themselves.

Fifteen virtual labs have been funded, 25% of the applications received in a competitive process, he said. The project areas range from geophysics to the humanities in the form of providing the Humanities Network Infrastructure (HuNI).

However, most use comes from outside those 15 projects because other researchers can spin up dedicated e-research servers of up to two cores each for their own projects. For many, he said, that’s all that is needed. They can also apply for more resource and in future may even be able to buy resources.

Speaking to ZDNet at the OpenStack Summit in Hong Kong this week, Moloney said the concept of virtual labs came along at exactly the right time because the then emerging cloud technologies could be used enable sharing across institutional boundaries.

Moloney said an evaluation workshop was held with other university representatives to select an open source cloud platform in March 2011. OpenStack was selected very early in its life and not because it had the best features.

It was chosen because of its governance model, corporate and industry backing and its open community approach, he said. The team was also reassured by NASA’s early involvement in the OpenStack project. CERN is now a user as well, he said.

Moloney said it was a controversial decision at the time as Eucalyptus had more mindspace back then. It was even called “courageous”. But it is clear now the right platform was selected, he said.

NeCTAR is responsive and agile but has also been implemented separately so it does not impair the ability of universities to manage their core IT needs.

Moloney said there is a lot of uptake, a lot of emerging value and a lot of international interest in the project. Pressure is building in Japan, for instance, for a similar initiative.

NeCTAR recently received a further A$9.4 million from Government to fund operations until mid 2015.