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NSF-Funded CloudBank Is Operational

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laptop computer display showing the CloudBank dashboard

The CloudBank dashboard gives researchers an interface to compare and access cloud services.

The San Diego Supercomputer Center at the University of California San Diego and its partners at the University of Washington, UC Berkeley, and Strategic Blue have entered production operations of the National Science Foundation-funded CloudBank program, which aims to simplify public cloud access for the computer science research and education community.

CloudBank is the result of a $5 million NSF award to SDSC and its partners to develop a suite of managed services to simplify public cloud access for computer science research and education. Over the past year, the CloudBank team has been working with public cloud providers, early users, project advisors, and the broader computer science community to develop the processes, tools, and education and outreach materials that address the plethora of pain points in making effective use of public clouds.

These initiatives included developing a broad understanding of capabilities available from providers, determining cost estimates for inclusion in NSF proposals, and assisting researchers in accessing the cloud and carrying the full range of user management and usage tracking that is critical for successful research and education programs.

"This transition to production operations is an important milestone for the project and represents the culmination of a lot of hard work by all our partners this past year," says Michael Norman, SDSC director and CloudBank's principal investigator. "I'm excited about where we are now, and look forward to the benefits that this innovative public-private partnership will bring to the research and education community."

A webinar explaining CloudBank services and support, and how to request cloud resources in NSF proposals, will be held on September 18. The webinar will include a demonstration of the CloudBank user portal. Registration is available online.

CloudBank has been structured to support specific NSF Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE) solicitations that have an option for principal investigators to request public cloud resources as part of the proposal. CloudBank is now working with the NSF to make the first award under this program.

Currently there are three additional open solicitations that can request cloud resources via CloudBank: Cyber-physical Systems, Cyberinfrastructure for Sustained Scientific Innovation, and the CISE Core Programs. CloudBank maintains a page of past and current NSF solicitations that are eligible under this program at

"CloudBank is a first-of-its-kind pilot for NSF to explore how to incorporate public cloud resources into NSF programs in a way that is scalable and cost-effective," says Deep Medhi, Program Director in the NSF's Computer & Network Systems Division. "We know that public cloud resources play an increasingly important role in computer science research and education. Through CloudBank, we will gain a deeper understanding of what is required to make public clouds an integral element of NSF programs."

"Understanding what the cloud has to offer, and how to use it in the lab or classroom can be daunting," says Ed Lazowska, co-principal investigator and a professor in the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering at UW. "The team at UW has approached this by developing cloud-agnostic training materials, and working with providers to ensure we are making the best use of the extensive materials they have to offer. As we look ahead, our efforts will be focused on building the community of cloud practitioners with enhanced support, targeted training, and discussion forums where lessons learned can be shared."

CloudBank has a mission to support multiple cloud providers, and while the user portal addresses this from the user perspective, there is significant complexity in working with providers in areas of contract negotiation, accounting, billing, and cost management. Through an innovative partnership with Strategic Blue, CloudBank is able to work with a single entity rather than each provider individually. This results in both operational and cost efficiencies that can be passed along to researchers.

"CloudBank has been designed with efficient cloud financial operations at its core. Strategic Blue's role is to stretch the NSF's research dollar as far as possible in the public cloud," says James Mitchell, CEO of Strategic Blue. "We are working behind the scenes to provide researchers with the technical and financial support they need to keep within their budget, while leveraging the on-demand scalability the public cloud offers to researchers."

The CloudBank award, funded under NSF grant 1925001, runs from August 1, 2019 through July 2024 (estimated). 


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