At no previous time in history has technology been so intertwined with research though increasingly institutions are not providing their investigators with the necessary technology and human support required to accomplish their work. Competition for NIH (National Institutes of Health) funding remains intense thus applications, especially those involving computational technology and data management, require strategic planning and documented institutional support to convince granting agencies that award money will be used in the best way possible. This is all happening even as the rate and size at which data is being generated is growing rapidly, (especially in the genomic sciences), thus merely storing data is a challenge even before considering how best to organize, clean, and analyze it. Add to this the expectation that data accompanying NIH funded publications must be maintained in perpetuity for purposes of reproducible research.
Frustratingly, despite having a very large budget in comparison to other campus departments, Central Information Technology groups usually provide only basic services like calendaring, course hosting, some database hosting, and email even though those services are SaaS, (Software as a Service), and are supported by partners such as Microsoft or Blackboard. Consequently large IT groups and CIOs are more in the business of managing vendor relationships as opposed to providing strategic technical leadership and expert computational and data management expertise which have become critical needs for researchers. In fact many Central IT groups have minimal in-house human technical resources using the rationale that such resources are costly to maintain – although these same organizations frequently maintain layers of expensive management who, though well-meaning, lack the background and vocabulary to correctly understand and address technical requests emanating from the medical research domain.
The good news is that there are in fact institutions who do recognize this as a problem and are retooling their service model to support researchers in the achievement of their computational research goals. With the advent of cloud computing anyone with a web browser and a credit card can leverage the near infinite “elastic” nature of the cloud which offers highly flexible on-demand computational environments via a dashboard or an Application Programming Interface. However, assistance is necessary to help users make the transition into the cloud and to understand how best to architect solutions for scalability.
As an example Harvard has embraced the cloud model and provides human resources to help researchers, students, and enterprise users adopt their work to cloud technology. Add to this that in the age of Big Data and the Data Deluge there remains a great need to acquire facility with analysis languages and tools such as R, Python, and Tableau as well as cloud services such as Amazon’s Elastic Computing and Google’s Compute Engine that offer at-scale computation and storage.
Whether you are an individual research, a department, or a Central IT group, Pittard Consulting of Decatur can help you make progress in your research and assist your support organizations in preparing for use of cloud services. Even if you aren’t ready to move to the cloud we can still help you maximize your local resources and recommend learning trajectories for your staff to better serve the interests of computational researchers.