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BU awarded $3 million to establish new cloud software

Boston University has received $3 million in state funding from Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick in addition to support from technology companies to develop the Massachusetts Open Cloud, the first cloud computing software of its kind.

“The MOC is conceived as a marketplace where different parties can contribute different assets that can be combined in creative and innovative ways to offer solutions or services that are hard, and often impossible, to develop in a closed cloud,” said Azer Bestavros, founding director of the BU Rafik B. Hariri Institute for Computing and Computational Science & Engineering.

The MOC is an information-sharing network that could boost the economy through technological advancement due to its open access. BU will lead the initiative in collaboration with peer universities in Boston as well as the Massachusetts Green High Performance Computing Center and Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

The MOC would be the first open cloud ever developed, which means multiple competing vendors will be able to upload and access the same information, said Bestavros, a College of Arts and Sciences professor of computer science.

“Because of this diversity, customers would not be locked in,” he said. “They can choose, compare and switch between multiple offerings. The MOC as an open cloud stands in sharp contrast to the monopoly of closed clouds, where choices are very limited and competition is almost non-existent.”

Bestavros said the team aims to fully develop the MOC within two to three years, at which point it will become economically self-sustaining.

“The $3 million funding from the Commonwealth will help us bootstrap the development of the software infrastructure that will get us to that point of being economically viable,” Bestavros said.

This state funding will also allow the MOC team to leverage contributions to develop the software totaling $16 million from other companies, Bestavros said.

“Most of our customers will be those using the cloud for research purposes, as opposed to commercial applications,” he said. “But our hope and plan is for the MOC to cater to any and all types of applications and uses.”

Founding Director of BU’s Center for Cloud Innovation Orran Krieger said when private corporations set up clouds, they tend to target the particular market with which they are most familiar in contrast to the broad approach of the MOC.

“In general, open environments spur a lot of creativity, competition and innovation,” said Krieger, a CAS research professor of computer science. “Now we can actually solve problems that nobody could solve before. What happens when the researcher can actually get access to thousands of computers for a few seconds, that’s going to transform many areas of science, [and] it’s going to transform many areas of business.”

Krieger said the MOC will allow for developments through the sharing of both software advancements and large sets of data.

“There’s a lot of different software platforms that are being developed by a very broad community to solve problems and do analytics on massive data sets,” he said. “This will be an environment where they can actually apply those different tools, and we expect a really rich and vibrant community to be taking part.”

The MOC will start by targeting university researchers but eventually grow to include data sets provided by the state of Massachusetts, as well as run hackathons using the available data, Krieger said.

BU students said they supported the MOC’s goal of increasing the information available to different organizations through an open cloud.

“It would definitely have the potential to be beneficial to everyone, especially if universities can share their research,” said CAS junior Bobby Abdolmohammadi. “I would have thought there would have been something like this already, just because it seems like it would really help.”

Thomas Loui, a College of Engineering senior, said there could be initial concerns among MOC users about conflicts over intellectual property.

“People are just going to be hesitant at first because they don’t know what to share and what’s too much,” Loui said. “It’s tough if you work for a company with an information disclosure contract, where you cannot provide any information that you’ve been working on to anyone else.”


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