Many people associate higher education with the traditional aspects of learning and teaching. At its core, students attend classes and lectures, carry out projects in labs, and participate in practicums, enabled by a vast university IT infrastructure.
However, there is another, less visible component of academia – the research arm – that requires a more massive and synchronized network of computing power. At more than $68B, the annual U.S. expenditures on university research far outstrip student tuition and fees revenue. However, spending for research and development is concentrated among the top 20 schools, accounting for more than 30% of all research expenditures, according to data from the National Science Foundation.
Research, by its very nature, positions universities on the leading edge, with technology an integral partner in the drive to solve some of the world’s most critical issues. With the recent advancements in cloud computing capabilities, the fundamentals of research are changing.
Historically, researchers leveraged computing power in two ways:
The data center: a centralized, pooled capacity requiring massive capital investment and skilled personnel. Often, the hardware becomes obsolete months after installation.
Local commodity servers: stand-alone machines stuck under a desk or in a closet. These servers lack the computing power, scale and security required for research.
Today, advances in the cloud computing service model and capabilities are disrupting the underlying tools of research by introducing near-infinite scale and bursting capabilities, allowing researchers to collaborate globally, while anonymizing data as necessary. At the same time, researchers can gain enhanced security, control and governance while taking advantage of the power of Big Data, culling key results from a vast array of disparate data sources and using the power of predictive analytics to create new insights previously not possible.
With more than 11,000 higher education customers, Oracle is a longtime partner to the industry. Our Higher Education Enterprise Cloud, offering a complete stack of SaaS, PaaS, and IaaS capabilities, is perfectly suited for scale-based research.
Penn State University’s Institute for CyberScience (ICS) has successfully prototyped the use of Oracle’s cloud-based infrastructure with a hybrid bursting model. The system is designed to give researchers the tools to do what was previously impossible: take advantage of high-capacity computing with virtually unlimited capacity to model highly sophisticated problems, from weather patterns on Mars to the protein production inside our own bodies. “Now that it has proved its worth, we are working to develop our ability to make it available to our faculty,” says ICS technical director Chuck Gilbert.
ICS achieved this high performance computing environment by placing workloads on “bare metal,” directly onto a server without hypervisor software to run at full computing speed. “Really, we're talking about nanoseconds and microseconds, and that little bit of jitter can make all the difference in a simulation being correct or not correct,” says Gilbert. “We are literally extending our data center footprint out to the cloud,” he said in a recent article for OracleVoice on Forbes.
Technology has always been an important and necessary research driver, from exploring the unseen world of the atom to improving the highly tangible need of solving our world’s food supply. For more than 30 years, Oracle and CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, have collaborated on some of the most respected, cutting-edge research performed worldwide. Recently, CERN has worked with Oracle to deploy physics workloads on over 9,500 cores via the Oracle Cloud Infrastructure Compute environment. CERN has also been using Oracle’s data analytics technologies in a reliability assessment study for a potential successor accelerator to the Large Hadron Collider, the world’s largest and most powerful particle accelerator. .
And at North Carolina State University, Oracle is working to crack the code on “smart farming” techniques, collecting data from field-based sensors, drones, tractors and other sources to make better decisions about irrigation, fertilizer and weed and pest control solutions. Through collaboration with agriculture and agribusiness leaders as well as university scientists, Oracle is applying expertise in data management, analytics and artificial intelligence to facilitate better crop outcomes in a world of finite resources.
There’s no question that this level of high performance computing will continue to improve, opening the door to creative solutions that will impact generations to come. For those institutions who aspire to expand their research capabilities, an investment in high performance computing may be mandatory. This is the new research: a virtual platform that knows no physical boundary.
Patrick Mungovan is the group vice president for Oracle Public Sector U.S. Higher Education, Research and Academic Medical Center Technology Sales.