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Universities give free cloud services to UK medical researchers

The Universities of Bath, Birmingham, Cardiff, Swansea and Warwick are giving researchers free access to cloud-based compute resources to speed up scientific discovery process

A university-led project is under way to provide the UK medical microbiology community with access to free cloud-based computing, storage and analytics capabilities.

The cloud infrastructure for microbial bioinformatics (Climb) project is being jointly overseen by the Universities of Bath, Birmingham, Cardiff, Swansea and Warwick, and is thought to be the largest of its kind in the world.

Funded by the UK’s Medical Research Council, the project will see four of the five universities involved pooling their compute resources. They will give researchers easy access to huge data storage repositories, backed by high-memory servers linked to key biological databases.

The hope is that giving UK-based academics working in the field of microbiology free access to these cloud resources will speed up the progress of their research, while stripping out the on-premise infrastructure costs typically associated with carrying it out.

This is particularly important, according to the organisations, because few researchers are able to access the compute resources needed to carry out bioinformatics analytics tasks on genomic datasets, which can slow down the pace of scientific discovery.

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The project’s principal investigator, Mark Pallen, who works within the microbial genetics department at the University of Warwick, said the initiative should also help boost collaboration between disparate research teams across the UK.

“Climb represents a user-friendly, one-stop shop for sharing software and data between medical microbiologists in the academic and clinical arenas,” he said.

“Using the cloud means that rather than dozens, or even hundreds, of research groups across the country having to set up and maintain their own servers, users can access shared preconfigured computational resources on demand.”

Meanwhile, Nick Loman, Climb research fellow at the University of Birmingham, revealed the setup is already being used to analyse and share data generated by the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

“This represents a step-change in collaborative working, particularly when faced with public health emergencies,” he added.

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