European E. coli outbreak
tests DOE cloud computer
Posted July 5, 2011
When biologists needed to quickly analyze strains suspected in the E. coli outbreak still reverberating through Europe, the Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory tapped into its Magellan cloud computing testbed.
Genetic analysis that usually would have taken weeks was compressed to one weekend in June, allowing scientists from around the globe to rapidly scrutinize the food-borne bacteria believed to have killed dozens and sickened thousands.
Magellan, Argonne’s Rick Stevens says, “enabled us to dynamically scale up the capacity to keep ahead of the demand that was coming from all over the world.”
The machines that comprise Magellan (see sidebar, “The nuts and bolts of Argonne’s cloud”) give researchers an arena for testing cloud computing’s utility for scientific discovery. Projects too small for DOE’s supercomputers but too large for in-house desktop or cluster computers can run through Magellan as needed. By creating a virtual machine, researchers can choose the number of processors for their applications.
Magellan and Argonne were part of an international network that sprang up to trace the deadly bacterial strains’ genealogies and to seek their weaknesses. The Argonne group quickly grasped Magellan’s potential, says Stevens, Argonne’s associate director for computing, environment and life sciences and a senior fellow in the lab’s Computation Institute.
Driven by social networking tools, “the labs in Europe had much more of a sense of urgency” than American labs, Stevens says. “We were trying to find some unique way to help.”