UTSA to share $6.6 million grant to help cloud computing reach academia

A cybernetic library that encompasses all academic fields where an individual checks out virtual laptops rather than books — this is cloud computing.

UTSA and Indiana University have collaborated on a $6.6 million grant from the National Science Foundation to study cloud-based research systems that allow for easier universal access to academic resources. The cloud-based system, according to Director of Cloud Computing Research at UTSA Paul Rad, will simplify and innovate existing practices of gathering and disseminating academic research to promote academic collaboration.

UTSA students and researchers are working together to create an academic pool of inquiry where questions and answers can be found instantaneously. Rad equates the research to building a library. Instead of trying to purchase all the necessary books required for research projects, UTSA, along with Indiana University, will create a virtual shared entity — an international library of research data.

“When we look at a library we look at it as a place where we just get books, then suddenly you start realizing as a result of so many people doing the same thing it’s a collaboration space — cloud is the same thing,” said Rad. “(Cloud) is collaborating. While I do XYZ, someone can do something else. Basically (cloud) makes for a more powerful tool, someone else can grab my work and expand it and enhance it.”

Rad explained that before contemporary cloud use, the exchanging and sharing of research required fields of servers and data centers to process academic research. Thousands of computers stored various information such as biology and chemistry computations. The problem is that storing fields of servers requires money and physical space, which is limited. Cloud computing systems can remedy this problem through a virtual domain that stores all information on demand for any paying user. The cloud’s capacity, although not unlimited, is far more flexible in terms of available space than a physical geographic location.

“With the cloud, the concept is companies can now, in the same way that we go turn on the light and have electricity, not think about where the generator is located,” said Rad. “The same concept now is a lot of people (and) smaller companies or people that want research, they can leverage those huge amounts of computer capacity that is available by someone else, like the generator so that they could use it as a utility and if they don’t need it they basically turn it off.”

Part of the grant’s proposal is to build one monolithic entity that is federated among three cloud centers. Cloud computing, although innovative, has inherent concerns such as security. Rad explained that when building a cloud system, security is embedded in the system’s architectural DNA rather than a separate element as in the past.

Furthermore, designing a massive information system requires the consideration of three components, scalability, federated systems, and demand, and user interface. A cloud system, as Rad explained, needs flexibility to ensure it can meet the demands of users while still maintaining interface capability among multiple networks. Additionally, the cloud, in some instances, can make routine activities like driving easier.

“(Cloud) means having access to information and computation, my great example is the first time I went to Chicago ten to fifteen years ago. I used a map when I rented car to go around the city,” said Rad. “It was a hassle when you’re driving looking at the map in a new city. Today everyone just pulls their phone and plugs it in — that’s cloud system.”

Rad feels that the research opportunities will bring the university closer to its tier-one endeavor and strengthen UTSA’s spot as a top academic institution.

“There is no leader of the cloud, we are the leader of the cloud computing,” said Rad. “Its always good when there is a new trend coming and your kind part of that trend because you can change it, you can shape it, you can build a brand. So I think some of those opportunities are with us. The leadership of universities is to start identifying that humanities is moving towards informatics age and to start investing and putting attention into this type of cloud system.”