By Eric Swedlund, BizTucson
What began as iPlant at the University of Arizona in 2008 as a computing tool for plant science has expanded into an invaluable platform for research of all sorts – earning a second $50 million grant and positioning the university as an international leader in big-data science.
Renamed this year as CyVerse, UA cyber infrastructure is used by researchers around the world to store, manage and analyze data sets of staggering size and complexity. The data is key to helping scientists gain new insights in areas like genomics, climate modeling and astronomy, fields where the collection of mass data has outpaced researchers’ ability to make sense of it all.
“This kind of infrastructure is absolutely crucial to the future of science,” said Parker Antin, CyVerse’s principal investigator. “More and more, science involves very large data sets and the analysis of those data sets to create understanding. The data sets are so large and complex and the handling of them is so difficult, that you need this sort of large infrastructure to do it for you, otherwise you grind to a halt very quickly.”
CyVerse marshals the technological resources necessary to crunch big data in a way that frees individual researchers from having to create their own platforms for every unique set of data. The simplicity and flexibility that characterizes CyVerse allows any researcher to use whatever tools are necessary, without having to program or even understand how those tools operate.
“It is our job to connect data across all levels to see the big picture – to sift through the data and figure out ‘why’ instead of simply ‘what,’ ” said Kimberly Andrews Espy, the UA’s senior VP for research. “Without the proper platforms, researchers spend too much time staring at frozen computer screens and not enough time making discoveries.”