National Cancer Institute Develops A Research Cloud - InformationWeek
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Michael Biddick
Michael Biddick
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National Cancer Institute Develops A Research Cloud

When it comes to developing the business case for cloud computing National Cancer Institute (NCI) is a pioneer.

When it comes to developing the business case for cloud computing at federal agencies, an early pioneer may be the example of the National Cancer Institute (NCI). Dr. Kenneth Buetow is leading an effort to develop caBIG - an ambitious community cloud platform designed to connect researchers and medical staff across the United States.The caBIG architecture is based on an open-source platform that allows the collaboration and exchange of data among 60+ cancer centers as well as government, educational and private oncology institutes. The fundamental architecture is built around a web services framework that can present lower level services to organizations with less sophisticated systems with a key goal of effectively managing the overwhelming volume of data generated by biomedicine.

caBIG got off the ground by making substantial investments in the development of the initial technology. NCI went to the individual cancer centers and found common requirements for systems and interoperability around biomedical support. Instead of each center developing silo'ed information systems, a shared approach was taken using caBIG.

caBIG provides substantial context to a myriad of information and provides a standard way to translate disparate information. As a distributed, federated system; the ability to share and expose information is left up to the organization originating the data. That way, they can protect the information at the appropriate level. The key to the success of the project has been to leverage existing technology, like open source. caBIG uses Globus -the open source grid software, and layered components on top of that. Ohio State, Emory and University of Chicago and many other private and educational institutions have also been key contributors to caBIG and Buetow believes this is really a public-private partnership effort.

The exchange of data in the community cloud has not been easy and it not yet complete. Buetow acknowledges that policy, social, ethical, intellectual property and legal issues all come into play with data exchange. How secure the transaction is conducted is also a key component. For caBIG, local autonomy and control of the data has been a catalyst to get centers on board. As caBIG can control data exchange down to the attribute level, it can allow different policy adoption in a federated environment. Buetow notes that "data sharing is a process, not an end state and everyone is at different levels of maturity. Some are very interested in sharing, others are more cautious." While there is still some resistance to the framework, the development and business case was also organic. Initially one hundred different people in the community were involved, now there are thousands.

caBIG could have larger implications for solving expanded health care data exchange. Clinical research, trials, and other electronic medical records (EMR) will be the next big challenges to address. A key to the development of caBIG was in the use of existing standards and technology, especially open source to deliver capabilities. Using the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) standards for EMR in addition to incorporating overall quality initiatives in ambulatory care is critical. Outcome-based medicine, wellness initiatives to show quality and constantly demonstrating improvement in health are key drivers in the federal health market. caBIG is working to keep those initiatives at the forefront to continue the research and development into this effort and demonstrate return on investment.

We're working on a four-part series of reports intended to help government IT pros get started on the path to elastic, on-demand computing. In our first report, we assess variables that factor into the decision of whether, and how, to implement cloud computing in federal environments. We explore usage scenarios where the business case for clouds is strongest, as well as some of the barriers.

InformationWeek has published an in-depth report on cloud computing and service-level agreements. Download the report here (registration required).When it comes to developing the business case for cloud computing National Cancer Institute (NCI) is a pioneer.

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