"We don't compete with commercial solutions."

Is there a chance for a Swiss Academic Cloud? Yes, says Edouard Bugnion, Professor of Computer Science.

Text: Patrik Schnellmann, published on 01.12.2014

Edouard Bugnion, Professor of Computer Science at EPFL, held a very insightful keynote speech at the ICT Focus meeting. He shared his views on how future data centres may look and the dramatic changes that are currently under way in the IT supplier industry.

Well-known IT suppliers like HP, IBM, Dell etc. are making less and less revenue in their server business. In contrast, direct sales from original design manufacturers – also known as the whitebox market – are rising by 25% year-on-year.

The buyers are big cloud operators like Microsoft and Amazon, which are building new data centres at a tremendous pace. "There will be blood", Bugnion says, referring to the intensifying market consolidation in the IT industry.

Edouard Bugnion's speech "Towards data center systems".

Patrik Schnellmann from SWITCH spoke to him about the chances of a Swiss Academic Compute Cloud.

Patrik Schnellmann: Given that there are such successful global players, is there space for a cloud infrastructure for the academic community in Switzerland?
Edouard Bugnion:
Yes, there is a big opportunity to address research problems with such a cloud, located in Switzerland and operated locally. This cloud, optimised for academic use, would be a powerful tool for data scientists. They would use it to analyse large data sets and meet all legal obligations regarding data protection. This is particularly important in sensitive applications such as personalised medicine, which seeks to optimise medical treatment depending on the patient’s genomes.

Data scientists would use the cloud to analyse large data sets and meet all legal obligations regarding data protection.

How would such an infrastructure be built?
Virtualisation is essential. Computing, storage and networking need to be systematically virtualised, moving essential functions from hardware to software and thus creating a "software-defined data centre". Using whitebox components ensures cost-effectiveness, efficiency and scalability within each data centre location. A federated approach would provide transparency across multiple Swiss data centres. This follows the approach of commercial cloud vendors and would be ideally suited to Switzerland’s political structure as a confederation.

How do you see the role and importance of open-source software and designs?
All clouds today rely heavily on open-source. At this point, this is no longer a topic of controversy. What's more interesting is the recent push towards open-source hardware such as that promoted by the Open Compute consortium. In such an approach, cloud operators contribute hardware blueprints specially geared to cloud applications. Of course, everyone benefits further down the line from the general availability of hardware that meets these blueprints.

Can a Swiss cloud for the academic community compete with the big players?
Yes, because the academic community is not trying to compete directly with commercial solutions. Instead, the goal is to serve the specific data science needs of the academic community. One specific differentiated goal is to make available interesting and relevant data sets that can be shared within the community while ensuring the appropriate level of data protection.

About the author
Patrik   Schnellmann

Patrik Schnellmann

Patrik Schnellmann is Cloud Project Manager at SWITCH. He holds an MSc in Computer Science and a Master of Advanced Studies in Management, Technology and Economics from the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich. Before joining SWITCH in 2004, he acquired experience in the finance industry and the Swiss government.


ICT Focus

SWITCH's annual event took place this year on 11 and 12 November in Interlaken. The target audience of ICT Focus are the heads of IT and other departments as well as those in charge of services throughout the SWITCH community. There are plenary talks and parallel sessions. The range of topics reflects the manifold challenges the IT departments of the Swiss universities face today: technical, legal as well as organisational. This year, two focal points were cloud services and information security management.

Other articles