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High performance computing

Research into biodiversity is characterized by a large diversity in expertise areas and tools. Just like in many other research domains, ICT is playing an increasingly important role in biodiversity research.

Diversity of needs and developments within research and ICT

Not only are the datasets produced getting bigger, but a meaningful analysis of these also requires increasing computer power.
In recent years considerable advances have been made in the research at Naturalis. For example, many researchers are making use of data produced by the DNA lab, are investigating the distribution of species using GIS software or are working with 3D scans.


This huge diversity in needs, together with the rapid developments in research and ICT, make it tempting to keep on implementing ad-hoc solutions. Naturalis, however has decided to set up a central High Performance Computing (HPC) environment to provide an efficient response to current and future needs.

What does the solution chosen by Naturalis cover?

Traditional HPC systems are very specialized and almost exclusively aimed at the research community. In recent years, much of the knowledge built up within the HPC community about performing calculation tasks in clusters has increasingly been applied in a more standardized manner to generic cloud platforms.


One of the fastest growing cloud projects is OpenStack. This open source project initiated in 2010 by Rackspace and NASA is a modular cloud operating system that a party can use to build its own cloud. Based on the Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) offered with OpenStack, users can independently set up virtual servers, storage, and networks, and configure these according to their own needs.


Due to the long-term development towards automated and standardized cloud environments OpenStack was found to be a perfect solution for the various needs within Naturalis.


The private cloud of Naturalis based on OpenStack offers researchers a possibility to carry out calculation tasks on virtual Linux or Windows machines. With this researchers have complete freedom and control over the software, while the installation of a number of frequently used applications is automated.

Strategy

Since the start of the project in 2010, OpenStack has grown into a vast project supported by a huge community of large and small IT companies. The platform is increasingly being used in research as well. For example, CERN joined the project early on and is making large-scale use of the software.


In the near future researchers will benefit from the rapid developments within OpenStack. For example, based on the needs within the research community increasingly tailored services and applications will be provided so that researchers not only have complete control over what they do but can also use their time more efficiently. And for the provision of Data Processing clusters and the support of 3D applications many interesting possibilities are on the horizon.


By making a conscious choice for OpenStack at a relatively early stage, Naturalis has ensured that it has the right knowledge and experience to be able to rapidly respond to new developments, and to enable researchers to benefit from these. Furthermore, the platform offers the basis for developing a range of new services to make collection-related and other biodiversity data digitally available.


These functional advantages are also associated with a more efficient use of hardware resources and more effective management.