On cloud nine

Three major universities in Qatar have come together to implement an ambitious cloud computing project that spans not just research, but also the general industrial sector and economy of the country.

  • E-Mail
By  Sathya Mithra Ashok Published  May 4, 2009

The system is built on fourteen blades. Each server has a dual quad core processor and around 8GB of memory. According to Sakr, the entire pilot system will consist of 112 cores and around 7TB of storage space in the initial period.

Sakr adds that since the system was put together by professionals and experts at IBM and the university, everything went a lot more smoothly than any of the realistic planning and contingencies anticipated.

“It was important for us to show the commitment that we were putting behind the project in terms of making this a smooth experience, and we have not spared any effort in terms of getting the right people to work on this project to make this work first time, to make it an easy and cool experience for everybody involved,” says Bashar Kilani, IBM software group, business unit executive at IBM Middle East.

Cloud replication

With the pilot system up and running at CMU, the next phase will involve replication of the cloud at the other two universities. This replication will take into account the specific needs and desires of each of the universities given their future plans.

“As CMU has a reasonably sized cloud computing infrastructure, we have similar plans at TA&M to install hardware and capacity maybe a little more or less. However, we will stick true to the concept of the cloud where the location of the computer is irrelevant. The users will have huge computing power at their fingertips without having to think about where that power is situated. All three clouds will be interconnected and will appear as a single cloud. The users will not know whether their job is running at the cloud in CMU, QU or TA&M,” says Alnuweiri.

“We are going to replicate systems here. We want to build this local capacity to deploy and utilise cloud computing in the region. Between the three universities, we will also collaborate and work together on other projects using the cloud between the three universities,” says QU’s Malluhi.

It was important for IBM to show the commitment that we are putting behind the project in terms of making this a smooth experience, and we have not spared any effort in terms of getting the right people to work on this project to make this work first time, to make it an easy and cool experience for everybody involved.

While three clouds are being formed, the current cloud at CMU will be used to drive several research projects at each of the universities. With the addition of more clouds, the universities only see research activity gathering speed. The ambitions of the universities, however, do not end with just the formation of the cloud and making it accessible to internal users.

Alnuweiri says, “The next phase for us is to look at evolving these cloud computing applications. Forthcoming projects might also include developing our own flavour of cloud computing based on our experiences in Qatar.”

The three universities are also aiming to involve more of the country’s general industry in the cloud computing project.

“QU will also develop some infrastructure. The other work that the three universities will have to do is to engage industry. We will have to work hard to make sure that the industry has a clear understanding and buy in to the systems. We opted for this phased approach because we wanted to make sure that as the system grows, the customisation for what Qatar needs also grows, and the other part was that the involvement and buy in from the local industry is also clear. We want to make sure that every step we take is clear, that we understand what needs to be improved and how much of the local industry participation we should expect,” says Malluhi.

“Each of us have existing relationships with the industry and since the announcement we have already gotten a few queries from people who want to evaluate their applications on this system. This requires a serious commitment from the industry since they have their own deadlines and commitments. To take this step is critical for them,” says Sakr.

“We have the larger strategy for making this easily accessible to clients. We will try our best to make it as easy and as seamless to access and use this infrastructure as possible. Part of this involves training these clients and providing excellent customer service to these clients and building capacity, relationships, and forming students who are familiar with these systems and once employed can help these companies use the cloud even better. The intent of this is definitely not to make money. However, we also expect this initiative to sustain itself. Therefore, in the future, we are looking for ways of keeping this initiative sustaining itself going further,” says Alnuweiri.

Malluhi adds that while profits will not come directly to the universities from industry involvement, the fact the companies themselves will be able to make better products and add to innovation will result in larger profits to the economy and the country in general.

The universities are continuing to invest in the project and are looking forward to getting the next phases of the cloud off the ground. Unlike other technology projects, this one might not have a fixed completion date since it will, in all probability, grow and change.

“This project is very unique. It is not one announcement like many others. We are trying to establish here a new model of core computing that is leading edge, and we are trying to do some innovation here in the region. As you can see, these are leading universities, they are collaborating together to put a value proposition and a model for local industry. It is a new model of doing computing around the world. We are participating here as leaders and are probably one of the few in many parts of the world who are doing this,” says Kilani.

He continues, “This could be the best cloud computing experience in the world and if we have not succeeded in transferring the knowledge to this part of the world and have a sustained model to run with it and innovate around it in this region, then we have not probably achieved the full potential of it.”

Backed by the teams from three universities, whose goals of research and development encompass the entire nation, there is little doubt that the project will reach its full potential in no time.

A brief on clouds

Cloud computing involves scalable and virtualised resources that are provided as a service over a network. Users of the resources need not have knowledge of, expertise in, or control over the infrastructure in the cloud that supports them.

The concept incorporates several new technology trends, including infrastructure as a service (IaaS), platform as a service (PaaS) and software as a service (SaaS) as well as Web 2.0.

The term cloud is used as a metaphor for the internet, based on how it is depicted in network diagrams.

Add a Comment

Your display name This field is mandatory

Your e-mail address This field is mandatory (Your e-mail address won't be published)

Security code