Opening the Cloud

Top Massachusetts universities and tech leaders join forces to make big data economical.

GUEST COLUMN | by Bob Braham

CREDIT Massachusetts Big Data ReportAccording to the 2014 Mass Big Data report, the global Big Data market is expected to reach $48 billion by 2017, growing over four times larger than the market in 2012. Big Data has quickly become a fixture in numerous industries, driving innovative discoveries and new applications in fields like healthcare, life sciences, and financial services. Currently the cost to enter the Big Data market makes it a major undertaking for smaller organizations looking to access the wealth of knowledge held within, but if a large group were to pool its resources it would be able to drive down the expenses and make it more affordable for everyone.

…if a large group were to pool its resources it would be able to drive down the expenses and make it more affordable for everyone.

The Massachusetts Open Cloud (MOC) project brings together academic, government, and industry leaders to introduce a new cloud computing infrastructure that helps make Big Data tools accessible to the participants. The MOC’s ultimate goal is to give other institutions unparalleled access to a veritable Big Data marketplace, allowing users to mix and match pieces of a ‘Big Data/ cloud stack’ to provide a solution tailored to their needs. By deploying the environment via the cloud, users only pay for the amount they actually use and are ultimately unburdened by the steep costs associated with establishing a data center and deploying a complete hardware and software solution.

Traditional cloud models rely on a single provider to operate the entire cloud environment, limiting a user’s choice to a single vendor’s end-to-end solution. This model stifles an organization’s ability to customize their own deployments, sometimes forcing them to compromise on aspects of the solution that could be vital to utilizing cloud technology most effectively. The single-provider model also creates difficulties for the provider, requiring the vendor to be highly prescriptive with the operating models chosen; the end result is often cloud-based applications lacking complexity or advanced capabilities.

Built around the Open Cloud eXchange model, the MOC project brings together multiple stakeholders to take part in implementing and operating the entire cloud environment. This approach allows the cloud solution to have an unparalleled level of flexibility, offering its users a more diverse marketplace that can work under a variety of conditions. By turning compute capabilities into a commodity resource that can be configured in a more modular fashion, organizations are able to tap into the cloud at a lower point of entry and tap into the power of Big Data analysis. Organizations are also given a more flexible, adaptive solution that can change as their understanding of what is needed continues to evolve.

By incorporating a range of technology vendors, the MOC project is a diverse cloud solution by definition. Leveraging multiple vendors for computing, storage, networking, and software, along with other aspects of cloud automation, the MOC’s capital costs can be distributed across multiple companies. This model helps to drive down the acquisition cost of running a cloud infrastructure, allowing for competitive pricing that will help make the solution more accessible to a wider audience.

Flexibility in design leads to greater knowledge discovery for the MOC’s users, allowing them to experiment with different parts of their Big Data stack to find the optimal solution. Access to this experimental “sandbox” by a wide range of researchers will help accelerate the pace of innovation in Big Data analytics, which will ultimately increase the number of users implementing cloud-based Big Data solutions for their own work.

The MOC project is a collaborative effort among Boston University, Harvard University, University of Massachusetts, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Northeastern University, as well as the Massachusetts Green High-Performance Computing Center (MGHPCC) and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). The cloud infrastructure incorporates components from industry leaders like Cisco, EMC, SGI, Red Hat, Juniper, Canonical, Dell, Intel, Mellanox, Brocade, DataDirect Networks, Mathworks, Plexxi, Cambridge Computer Services, Enterprise DB, and Riverbed, giving users a wide selection of technologies to use in their Big Data / cloud implementations.

The key to implementing the MOC project successfully will come from finding a way to unite the diverse industry and academic groups working on the project. While there are clearly defined benefits associated with any open cloud, the ultimate opportunity for the MOC lies within the collaborative aspect of the project helping to further the understanding of cloud-based, Big Data analytics infrastructures. The MOC model will help expose new audiences to the insights of Big Data, furthering discovery and innovation across multiple research disciplines.

Bob Braham is the Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer for SGI. In this role Bob is responsible for product management, global structure and execution of all aspects of SGI’s outbound marketing efforts. Prior to his position at SGI, Bob was the Vice President for the Enterprise Storage Division at EMC Corporation. Before EMC Bob held key positions at prominent technology companies Brocade Communications, NetApp, and Sun Microsystems. Bob holds a B.S. degree in Electrical Engineering from Duke University. He has served on the Boards at Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County, Thinking Media, and Mo-D.

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