A central challenge of genomics research is developing sufficient infrastructure and software tools to perform the data-intensive analysis that research requires.  Cloud computing has been increasingly considered a flexible resource to meet these demands. For bursty needs, cloud computing can provide cost and efficiency benefits, particularly for individuals who may not have the skills and experience to run an HPC resource.  On the flipside, cloud computing faces potential regulatory and ethical issues, particularly for biomedical research and clinical practice.  A recent Nature article highlights security, confidentiality, accountability, data transfer and control as key factors, which should be borne in mind by anyone considering using publicly available cloud providers for the storage or analysis of genomic data.

In light of these key factors, a useful alternative is a private cloud that provides stronger control yet allows for many of the benefits including efficient sharing of data with collaborators anywhere around the globe. The seamless integration of high-performance storage with private clouds provides a strong solution from the moment the data comes off sequencers, or other instruments, through the complete research data lifecycle.

An example of such a hybrid cloud has recently been adopted by the National Institute of Biomedical Genomics (NIBMG) to enable top performance and efficiency from ingest and analysis to collaboration and archival. NIBMG, a member of the International Cancer Genome Consortium (ICGC), is conducting genomics-based research into oral cancer associated with smokeless tobacco consumption. Oral cancer is the leading cancer among men in India and is the eighth most common cancer worldwide.  With a hybrid cloud solution built on DDN technology, NIBMG “dramatically reduced the time it takes to perform a single job while running twice as many concurrent jobs,” and leveraged “infinite scalability … which means that [they] can grow in place to support petabytes of vital research data as we continue to manage the ICGC and other projects.” NIBMG, Genomic, DDN NIBMG is just one of many top research organizations leveraging the latest technological advances to create best practices in genomics research.  Last month I highlighted the Tohoku Medical Megabank (ToMMo) at Tohoku University which is taking genomic “big data” to a new scale with impressive studies of multi-generation genomic and phenotypic data.  In a day long workshop in Boston on October 14th, industry leaders will discuss solutions to the genomics related challenges they have faced (or are anticipating) at the Broad, Sanger Institute, Harvard Medical School, Genome Quebec, Public Health England, Mount Sinai, HudsonAlpha, and the Lineberger Cancer Center.  Find more information and register for the Best Practices in Genomics Workshop.

On the heels of that workshop, we will also be participating in similar discussions at the 2nd Plenary Meeting of the Global Alliance for Genomics and Health. As I described a couple months ago, we were a founding partner of Global Alliance, which is working to accelerate world-wide efforts to responsibly share and analyze large amounts of genomic and clinical information. The Global Alliance has made tremendous progress recently, both in organizational aspects such as adopting a formal constitution and in more functional aspects like developing a Genomics API to enable interoperability for read sequences, and I am looking forward to further engagement with them.

  • George Vacek
  • George Vacek
  • Global Director Life Sciences
  • Date: September 26, 2014