What is the Cloud Credits Model?
On-demand, cloud-based storage and computing resources are becoming more commonplace in biomedical research. However, direct acquisition of these services by investigators can be complicated and inefficient. As one step to help overcome these barriers, the NIH BD2K program has developed a Cloud Credits Model. This pilot project provides pre-paid credits that allow NIH-funded investigators to access modern, cloud-based technology to support their research objectives. Through the credits, NIH can test a business model for making data storage and analysis in the cloud more efficient.
The Cloud Credits Model is a component of the first phase of the Big Data to Knowledge Program (BD2K). This project supports B2DK’s aim to facilitate access and use of biomedical big data. NIH expects that the lessons learned from the Cloud Credits Model will apply to second-phase BD2K initiatives, including the efforts of the NIH Data Commons Pilot Phase, which will make use of cloud technologies to advance biomedical research.
The Cloud Credits Model involves:
- Using existing, centralized agreements with cloud vendors that conform to NIH requirements for capacity, security, accessibility, and other key criteria
- Creating a marketplace of cloud resource providers and cloud resource consumers (investigators), to test the application of private sector operating approaches to a government sponsored effort
- Assessing the model for effectiveness and efficiency with respect to ease to of use and cost
Participating investigators can select services from multiple cloud service providers that conform to NIH specifications. Cloud credits are requested through and issued by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Alliance to Modernize Healthcare (CAMH) Federally Funded Research and Development Center (FFRDC), operated by The MITRE Corporation. The Cloud Credits Model is not connected to the NIH grants mechanism and does not impact investigators’ grants.
What does NIH hope to gain from the Cloud Credits Model?
NIH hopes to learn whether this model could be used in the future to acquire services and to compute on, store, and share biomedical big data at scale in the cloud. The primary goals are to create efficiencies for investigators, facilitate cost savings for NIH, and promote and share data generated by the community.
To date, the Cloud Credits Model has issued an “alpha” round of credits to 8 investigators to test the process of issuing credits, gaining access to cloud resources, and tracking usage. Over $100,000 in credits have been consumed, and reporting systems and dashboards have been created that inform participants as well as the NIH of spending by account and category.
Additionally, in preparation for issuance of additional credits to investigators, the Cloud Credits Model project team has built capacity for providing basic technical assistance across conformant cloud resources. Lastly, tools for capturing final outcomes, including a survey and post implementation report, have been developed.
In summary, the Cloud Credits Model offers the following:
- An “on-ramp” to the cloud for participating investigators
- Training opportunities for the community and for NIH
- Processing efficiencies (accounts, invoices, and other administration efforts)
- Incentives for investigators to create and share the data / tools / workflows that they created using credits
- Insight into resource use to inform decisions about cost-sustainability
- Experience working with cloud resource providers, including the ability to extend business relationships for future initiatives