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Europe’s €14 million ‘Open Clouds for Research Environments’ (OCRE) project will wind down at the end of this month after helping a million European researchers access commercial cloud services.
By reducing red tape and making ready-to-use service agreements between universities and research institutes, the project has awarded €8.5 million in grants since 2019 to exponentially increase cloud uptake.
Cloud-based services offer research teams powerful tools such as management services, visualisation, and analytics. However, they have traditionally been expensive and complicated for small interdisciplinary research institutions and universities to acquire.
OCRE has given European researchers the ability to access and procure a suite of cloud and data services with funding grants via its unique delivery model, the OCRE Cloud Framework.
OCRE Project Director David Heyns said: "The OCRE project has enabled more than 10,000 European institutions to easily access a host of relevant digital services through the OCRE Cloud Framework. OCRE has allowed thousands of researchers to increase the capacity of their compute, storage and related services to develop, run, and manage applications as a public cloud service.
“Many researchers now have access to on-demand high performance compute, data storage, machine learning platforms, simulation and virtualisation tools for the first time with minimal bureaucracy. OCRE has made the European research ecosystem quicker and more scalable.”
Exponential Growth in Academia
By stimulating cloud uptake, OCRE increased consumption by researchers across 40 countries. The European demand for cloud services in academia stood at €20 million in 2020 but more than doubled to €47 million a year later. With €31 million already spent in the first half of 2022, this trend looks to continue in 2023.
OCRE funded research projects to use on-commercial cloud and Earth observation (EO) services to simulate how its business model would act in market conditions. Suppliers and research projects submitted funding applications, with OCRE overseeing the distribution and contracting. This process enables self-funded research projects to take advantage of the framework and directly engage suppliers – even after the project concludes.
This year, OCRE awarded €6 million to fifteen European research projects through its final funding call. The projects benefitted from free access to Google, Amazon, and Orange commercial cloud services to develop their next-generation technologies, including genetic analysis, green energy, and accelerated cancer treatment services. Each partnership received up to €500,000 (excluding VAT) in commercial cloud service grants.
Projects funded under the €1 million Earth observation calls involved timely response awards such as assessing war damage in Ukraine.
From 2023, the €82 million GN5-1 project will support the framework implementation and plans to develop the new cloud framework to succeed the OCRE Cloud. OCRE’s Cloud Framework contracts with suppliers and agreements with the National research and education networks (NRENs) – specialised internet service providers dedicated to supporting the needs of the research and education communities within their own country – will operate until the end of 2024.
Modelling Drug Delivery to Lungs
OCRE’s funding has enabled several research teams to make medical advances which would be impossible without access to commercial cloud services. With new cloud computing services, a research team at Heriot-Watt University in the UK has created powerful simulations of drug delivery in the lungs. The team has gained new insights into how drugs administered by aerosols behave when inhaled.
The researchers have been able to model the transport and deposition of aerosol drug particles in lung airways and run simulations with millions more particles corresponding to a realistic inhaler dose.
Assistant Professor, School of Engineering & Physical Sciences, Dr Ali Ozel, said: "Our project demonstrates cloud computing’s benefits provided by OCRE funding for advanced aerosol transport modelling. The cloud access provides us extensive computational resources with implementing various HPC configurations such as across more CPUs than previously with more available RAM necessary to perform the first-ever simulations of realistic aerosol drug deposition in lung airways. These resources are idle for the code development period but ready for refining models and results that significantly reduce costs for the simulations proposed compared to purchasing and maintaining hardware for our university high-performance computing facility. Access to large RAM also supports our medical image processing methods, as our current artificial neural network segmentation tool requires, we significantly down-sample the medical images.”