Research institutions and universities can benefit greatly from deploying cloud environments for their scientific objectives. In practice, however, it is not so easy for such institutions to make the transition to the cloud. That’s where OCRE will play an important role, if it’s up to GÉANT. Rackspace Technology and AWS are working together within this network to help organizations in 39 European countries get the AWS capacity they need. We spoke to Bert Stam, General Manager Northern Europe at Rackspace Technology, to find out more.
Before we delve deeper into the collaboration between Rackspace and AWS, let’s clarify a few acronyms. As indicated above, GÉANT is the initiator of the OCRE initiative. GÉANT is a European network of local education and research institutions. GÉANT’s members are represented by NRENs, or National Research and Education Networks, in each country. The European Commission and the NRENs jointly provide the funding for GÉANT.
The next acronym of interest for this article is OCRE. OCRE stands for Open Clouds for Research Environments, which also immediately clarifies what it intends to accomplish. It’s a procurement collaboration to make the delivery of cloud services to the members of GÉANT as smooth as possible. OCRE is itself part of EOSC, or European Open Science Cloud, the catalog of services offered within Europe.
OCRE, by the way, is not something new. The OCRE we are talking about here is the second iteration of the framework. The focus has shifted, however, Stam indicates, even though the principle is the same. “Whereas in the first version of OCRE it was mainly about resellers as partners, in this new variant there is much more emphasis on knowledge and expertise,” he indicates the difference. Commercially, too, the conditions under OCRE-2 are more attractive than OCRE-1.
As indicated, OCRE is a procurement collaboration within GÉANT. In it OCRE is also a framework agreement for parties wishing to purchase services. That is, everything is tendered at once within the framework. That should ensure that what you’re looking for as a research institution or university is easier to adopt without issuing another public tender. The pricing is also more attractive if you do it this way. However, as an institution you do have to be a member of your local NREN if you want to make use of the offerings within OCRE.
Cloud a challenge for education and research
Now that we have the terminology straight, we can move on to the actual topic of our conversation with Stam: the collaboration between AWS and Rackspace Technology (Rackspace from here onwards) within OCRE. This is, in fact, a pretty substantial one. The tender issued by GÉANT awarded many contracts throughout Europe. It selected rackspace for AWS in 39 countries. This while Rackspace does not have a physical presence in all of those countries. “Partly this will be due to Rackspace’s status in the field of managed cloud services,” indicates Stam. “Furthermore, such a large award also ensures more commitment and focus on the part of Rackspace.” Interestingly, Rackspace took the initiative for this collaboration and went to AWS. As part of the collaboration, the two agreed on exclusivity. This basically means that Rackspace does not work with other cloud providers within OCRE.
Cloud is quite a challenge within research and education. Othwerwise, we wouldn’t need OCRE. There is undoubtedly a relatively large amount of legacy in terms of technology in research and education. Furthermore, many research groups within universities and other research institutions probably work with sensitive (personal) data. Finally, at least part of the sector lacks the financial resources and technical know-how to just purchase and start using cloud infrastructure.
The fact is that ignoring cloud is not possible anymore. There’s simply too much data to process in research. “Research institutions that start collecting data in bulk and use traditional infrastructure quickly run into its limitations”, Stam says. You simply can’t escape cloud anymore. “The pay-as-you-go principle is now also quite common in this sector,” adds Stam. That, of course, also helps with a possible switch to the cloud.
The Role of Rackspace
For Rackspace, the partnership with AWS is also a way to get and stay on the radar in the research and education sector. The company is already well represented in government and healthcare, in research and education that could be even better. In Stam’s words, Rackspace sees “great growth potential” in this sector, which GÉANT is now also better able to unlock for Rackspace thanks to OCRE.
Ultimately, Rackspace’s role for AWS within OCRE is no different than usual. The goal is to make knowledge and expertise available to parties who want to enter the cloud. That can take several forms. First there is consultancy, i.e. knowledge sharing about what instituations need to achieve their goals. Rackspace can then also build, manage and maintain the infrastructure. Furthermore, it is possible to perform the migration from old to new environment and refactor applications for the new environment. And that still isn’t all. “We can help with things like DevOps, security, data services and so on, we can offer a whole palette of services,” summarizes Stam. It’s up to the institutions to work with Rackspace to determine what they need and what they don’t need.
“Ultimately, our partnership with AWS within OCRE is about enabling universities and research institutions to consume cloud more easily,” Stam returns to the primary objective. The combination of Rackspace’s knowledge and expertise, AWS’ platform and the OCRE framework, makes that possible. Both AWS and Rackspace are also increasing their presence in this sector, making it potentially a win-win-win. We are curious to see how this will work out in practice. We will certainly keep our eyes open, to look for examples of Rackspace, AWS and OCRE in action.