Clearing up some concerns about cloud computing and genomics research

October 7, 2013

Cloud computing has become a popular option for scientists wanting on-demand access to increased capacity and capabilities, without having to invest in costly new hardware, storage, or other infrastructure. Genomics researchers, who produce enormous amounts of data thanks to new DNA sequencing technology, have begun to recognize the potential benefits of moving to the cloud.  At the same time, cloud computing raises some concerns. Both the benefits and the concerns are discussed in a recent article “Genomics in the clouds,” published in Nature Methods.

Cited in the article are Ravi Madduri and Paul Davé, co-leads of the Globus Genomics platform developed at the Argonne/University of Chicago Computation Institute.

They emphasized that the new cloud-based platform offers several advantages to genomics users.  As data is generated, it can be run from the sequencing facility to the analysis pipeline on the cloud. Software from the Galaxy open genomics analysis platform has been built into Globus Genomics. Moreover, the genomics analysis tools have been optimized for the cloud.

But both men cautioned that researchers need to be aware of several potential problems in adopting cloud computing. For example, Madduri noted that one must have a clear understanding of the costs, particularly when running large, collaborative jobs. And Davé said that supporting the analysis environment also may require considerable personnel.

Their comments are supported by the experiences of several other leaders from national and international institutions interviewed in the article. For details, see the Nature Methods website and “Genomics in the clouds,” Vivien Marx, Nature Methods 10 (2013) 941-945.