Since 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed education and research institutes worldwide to make a huge digital leap, forcing them to switch physical facilities with online ones and readapt services and processes to be 100% virtual. The solution for creating an online and hybrid learning environment? Boosting cloud adoption.
But even after restrictions have been lifted, the industry’s advantages in using cloud technology remain: easily accessible resources, collaboration and communication, long-term cost savings, scalability and flexibility, higher productivity and more efficient practices, coupled with fewer concerns about server maintenance, data security or storage are just a few lasting benefits. But buying cloud services can be quite complex for many institutions.
Sparkle can offer the best cloud solutions to the research and education community while reducing the costs and complexity of the digital transition. Through its multi-cloud offering, Sparkle provides cloud services across multiple public and private platforms along with management consoles and connectivity services to connect customers’ on-premises cloud facilities to the major public cloud providers through private, high speed and secure connections.
At the end of 2020, Sparkle has become an Open Clouds for Research Environment (OCRE) Cloud Framework provider and a Google Cloud integrator in 27 European countries including France, Germany, Italy, Portugal, and the United Kingdom.
Launched in 2019, the OCRE project was created to promote cloud adoption across the European scientific community through ready-to-use service agreements with cloud service providers and a standardised contract that makes buying cloud solutions easier for more than 10,000 institutions. The initiator was a consortium led by GÉANT which includes CERN, RHEA and Trust-IT.
Being awarded the OCRE provider status is yet another recognition of Sparkle’s commitment to help the education and research industry’s digital transformation. Becoming part of OCRE means that R&E organisations can use Sparkle’s one-stop solution based on Google Cloud and Google Workspace for Education services, along with on-site professional services and expert customer support. Institutions are guided by Sparkle’s experts through purchasing and implementing cloud services, ensuring their integration into daily research activities, and having full control of their costs and resources via a user-friendly management console.
The benefits of Sparkle’s OCRE status include a smooth procurement process with ready-made agreements that can be tailored to organisational needs, updated compliance requirements and built-in data protections, and special discounts and funding opportunities, as the European Commission has allocated €9.5 million to incentivise the adoption of cloud services from OCRE framework suppliers.
Positive impacts through the cloud
As Google Cloud integrator and closely collaborating with Google Cloud partner Omnigen, Sparkle will help implement a research platform for childhood cancer for the Princess Máxima Center for pediatric oncology, Europe’s largest profile centre. The Centre aims to use Google Cloud technology, which offers scalability, speed, data security and a unique state-of-the-art analysis framework, to investigate tumor-specific mutations and understand better how the disease develops in children, map mutations and provide a secure source of childhood cancer genomics data to be reused by other researchers. Starting this October and running over the next two years, the project has been granted almost half a million euros.
“We are very proud to participate with our partners in this project putting digital technologies at the service of scientific research”, says Annalisa Bonatti, EVP Enterprise at Sparkle. “With this project we confirm our commitment, through the OCRE Cloud Framework, to offer the best cloud solutions to the European education and research sector by reducing the cost and complexity of the transition to the cloud.”
“With the cloud we can perform large-scale re-analysis with more genome data and at a higher speed. Where an analysis on a local compute cluster could take about six months, using the cloud we could do it in a few weeks”, Dr. Patrick Kemmeren, leading the research group, says. “It can also stimulate collaboration among researchers: by having lots of standardized data available in the cloud, we can more easily give access to data to collaborators in a secure, controlled way for them to perform their analyses. As childhood cancers are rare, having access to this type of data is essential to accelerate research and eventually develop targeted therapies.”
Of the 15 projects chosen to benefit from cloud solutions through OCRE, seven have been awarded to Sparkle, and focus on healthcare and digital technologies. They include:
- The University of Burgundy which will work to build a training solution for health professionals and students in the Metaverse, accessed either with VR technology or simply with a headset and device.
- The iCANDID project from the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven will develop a FAIR (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable Reusable) data hub for the Social Sciences and Humanities to assist researchers in the otherwise tedious and time-consuming data collection- and preprocessing process.
- The Università di Padova along with the Università Svizzera Italiana will focus on a Machine Learning paradigm called Incremental Learning, or more specifically a subclass of this called Lifelong Learning, which allows the model to continuously adapt while still remembering previously learned tasks.
“Working closely beside researchers, collaborating with commercial cloud services providers on innovative digital services in support of research agility and improved outcomes, has been extremely fulfilling for the entire OCRE team,” says Dave Heyns, OCRE Project Director, (GÉANT). “We believe that we have demonstrated the significant benefits that commercial cloud computing brings to the European research community, and have contributed towards making these services more easily accessible to the researchers”.