Cloud computing and COVID-19


Cloud Computing certainly remains a fertile ground for innovation to this day: topics such as Cloud-edge continuum, federated Cloud, and green Cloud are primary examples of exciting and active areas of research and development. It is however a neither new nor emergent technology: The immense growth of Cloud infrastructure, architectures, and service offers over the last twenty years brought about the current state of mainstream adoption if not dominance in the consumer as well as B2B global markets.

And yet Cloud Computing, established as it is, became the technology du jour in these COVID-19, stay-at-home times. Last March, some major Internet video providers started to take measures to reduce the network load of their streaming services on European Internet, in response to EU concerns that the lockdown measures in various European countries would lead to peaks in home video streaming requests from homebound citizens. Obscure technical issues such as video bit rate and resolution were debated in general media.

Moreover, video conferencing tools and social media are irreplaceable to keep in touch with family and friends, to operate many businesses without office presence, and even to provide comfort to whole countries. Cloud Computing infrastructure and providers play a major role in the dependable provision of mass connectivity and entertainment services to businesses and households alike; even the general reputation of the Internet reverted back towards its original and somewhat rosier outlook, when the promise of an open, free, and collaborative Internet was not yet tainted from fake news, privacy violation and online harassment.

The global challenge posed by the COVID-19 pandemic has also much more direct connections with Cloud Computing: scientific and clinical efforts to understand and eliminate the coronavirus threat, be they through genetic sequencing, vaccine research, or medical protocol design, can all look on Cloud Computing as a great enabler of both their effectiveness and speed.

One of the main drivers for the direct application of Cloud Computing to coronavirus research is the availability and effective sharing of massive quantities of biochemical data, combining the principles of Open Science with the high availability and size of Cloud-based storage solutions and complementary services. The European Commission has recently reported on a number of European initiatives; in particular, the European COVID-19 Data Platform provides an open and trusted European and global environment where researchers can store and share datasets, such as DNA sequences, protein structures, data from pre-clinical research and clinical trials, as well as epidemiological data.

Beyond massive scale data sharing, another prominent factor is the sheer Cloud-based computing power that can be tapped into to overcome the related computational obstacles in the shortest possible time. Thanks to the ongoing convergence between Cloud Computing and scientific High-Performance Computing (HPC), the world’s best supercomputers can be directly applied to process Cloud-managed big data for machine learning, simulation, and many other demanding computational tasks. The public-private COVID-19 High-Performance Computing Consortium includes the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, the U.S. Department of Energy and IBM: the hosted project will leverage the 200-petaflop-capable Summit supercomputer to, for example, simulate the activity of large numbers of chemical compounds that may block the coronavirus spike protein, inhibiting its binding with human cells and the resulting infection.

Facing this pandemic requires coordinated scientific, technological, social, and political efforts on the global stage: Big Data and High-Performance Computing allow us to say that here, this Cloud has not one but two silver linings.