The Big Data to Knowledge Cloud Credits Model

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 developed a Cloud Credits Model in 2015. This three-year pilot project provided pre-paid credits that allowed NIH-funded investigators to access modern, cloud-based technology to support their research objectives. This project supported B2DK’s aim to facilitate access and use of biomedical big data. Through the use of credits, NIH tested a business model for streamlining access to cloud services for data storage and analysis. Lessons learned from the Cloud Credits Model will inform NIH efforts to establish best practices, standards, and infrastructure to address the challenges that currently limit the utility of large data sets in biomedical research, as described in the NIH Strategic Plan for Data Science.

NIH provided 86 NIH-funded extramural biomedical researchers with approximately $2.7M of credits, which were redeemable with pre-selected cloud vendors to pay for computing and storage resources. Cloud credits were 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:

  • Used existing, centralized agreements with cloud vendors that conform to NIH requirements for capacity, security, accessibility, and other key criteria
  • Created 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
  • Assessed the model for effectiveness and efficiency with respect to ease to of use and cost

What were the outcomes of the Cloud Credits Model?

The Cloud Credits Model Pilot revealed numerous benefits and challenges described below:


  • Introduced investigators to cloud resources and enabled them to configure the commercial cloud environment as needed to conduct biomedical research
  • Provided access to data sets without having to download
  • Built relationships between investigators and cloud service providers that can be leveraged to acquire cloud services for NIH programs, and reduce economic and technological barriers to accessing and computing on large biomedical data sets via the STRIDES Initiative
  • Demonstrated efficiency gains in cost and time, as well as benefits such as speed, scalability, and interoperability from using cloud resources
  • Provided ease of collaborations and sharing of digital research objects across various academic institutions
  • Allowed faster dissemination of publications and permitted research to quickly progress to publication-ready state
  • Informed other NIH efforts, such as the New Models of Data Stewardship program, that make use of cloud technologies to advance biomedical research


  • Difficulty establishing new business associate agreements with cloud vendors due to the sensitive nature of data (e.g., PII, PHI)
  • Complexities in working with multiple vendors and/or receiving multiple credit awards • Need for real-time credit usage tracking
  • Lack of familiarity with cloud services
  • Additional training needed on efficient use of cloud resources and cost management tools
  • Better tools to manage multiple researchers working under one credit award

How do I sign up for the next round of credits?

The Cloud Credits Model pilot has ended, and the NIH is no longer offering credits through this program. For additional information on the Cloud Credits Model and its outcomes, please contact the project lead:

Nick Weber, M.S., MBA
Program Manager Cloud Services for Research
Center of Information Technology

This page last reviewed on January 7, 2019