Some research projects involve taking a pen and a lab book out into the field for recording and compiling personal observations – others require a multi-billion dollar particle accelerator. Data processing requirements for the full spectrum of research run the gamut of computing resources: Can your project needs be met with your current computing, storage, and network infrastructure? Will your current equipment, software and support last the full lifetime of your project? You may want to consider resources available from within your School or Organization, Stanford’s Central IT Services, and/or an entity outside of Stanford that will fill your needs.
Staff within the Information Technology and Research Administration communities at Stanford have collaborated to help you identify what special computing needs your research may entail and forward you to the appropriate resource for more information. This may include lists of “for-fee” services offered by University business units, “for-free” services available to some or all members of the Stanford research community via central funding, or information about who to talk to. We have organized this in an attempt to answer the following question:
Does your research effort require “computing resources”?
Below, are specific questions grant applicants should consider to ensure appropriate IT needs are available or requested in the grant application. You can click on the question, or scroll down to see the answers to these questions.
- What computing resources are needed for this research project?
- Servers or Compute Cycles
- Can I share resources with other researchers?
- Can I borrow anything of theirs?
- I have heard a bit about virtual machines… what role could they play in my research effort?
- How will my data be accessed and shared?
- How much data will there be? How long do I wish to keep it? How will I access it in the future?
- What are my sponsor’s storage, retention, and archive requirements? Do I need to keep my data available to them after my grant is finished?
- Can the security requirements of your data be identified? Will protected data (HIPAA, FERPA, PHI, etc.) as defined in Stanford’s Data Classification Guidelines make up my research data?
- What applications does my project require?
- How is all of this going to stay running? Does my research group possess the appropriate level of expertise to support my computing resources? Do I want my researchers spending their time patching servers? Should I really use my research assistants to run this critical environment?
- Can it be plugged it into the wall? Are the local facilities adequate to support the new computing infrastructure?
By answering these questions, we hope you will be better prepared to make informed decisions about your IT spending when crafting a research budget.
What computing resources are needed for this research project?
Regardless of what type of research you are undertaking, you may stand to benefit from expanding your computing resources beyond a simple computer-per-researcher setup. Consider the following objectives and how additional lab resources or leveraging central resources, could streamline your effort:
- Collaboration and Data Sharing: For some forms of collaboration, sharing the data via email or visiting a colleague is adequate or even preferable. However, using access-controlled central file storage or other collaborative tools at Stanford may improve your ability to extend your research effort beyond the boundaries of your group or extend your boundaries beyond the lab.
- Software Licensing: Software licensing costs can be mitigated by leveraging Stanford’s campus-wide licensing agreements. Concurrent licensing, instead of buying a full copy of the software for everyone, is another option.
- High Performance Computing: Some research will require a higher level of computing. Researchers should consider utilizing a central cluster, cloud resources or other unused cycles. For more information about high performance computing, see Servers and Compute Cycles.
- Data Security: Some projects involve dealing with data that is more sensitive than others, or have particular compliance requirements regarding data handling. Please see the Security section below.
- Support: In some cases, computer support for your lab may be addressed by arrangements already made by your School. More frequently, you will have to provide your own support. Central Services generally provide some level of computer support on a fee-for-services basis. Please see the Support section.
- Facilities: Power, cooling and space requirements for your research computing may best be served by Stanford’s central computing facilities. See the Infrastructure section to learn more.
If you would like assistance with any of the above from a subject matter expert, enter a HelpSU.
Servers and Compute Cycles
Can I share resources with other researchers? Can I borrow anything of theirs?
It may be possible to either buy part of a compute cluster or buy compute cycles from a central group that provides computing. Familiarize yourself with the options, it may save time, money and effort overall to pool resources with another group, or leverage a central service. If you want more information, fill out a HelpSU and either your School’s IT support or central campus IT support can provide further information.
I have heard a bit about virtual machines… what role could they play in my research effort?
Many groups at Stanford have implemented partial or complete virtual infrastructures as part of their computing strategy. Virtual server infrastructures offer several advantages over physical infrastructures. They require a specific set of expertise to plan and implement, virtual server service is already offered by central campus. Leveraging virtualization may help your research project meet sustainability, cost containment, efficiency, and scalability goals. Taking your infrastructure virtual may offer unique advantages for your research: please fill out a HelpSU and either your School’s IT support or central campus IT support can provide further information.
How will my data be accessed and shared?
Understanding the flow of the data will assist in determining appropriate access controls and security measures as the data moves around. The growth of interdisciplinary and cross-institutional research has seen a corresponding change in the need to share data: it has become much easier, faster, and more reliable than ever before. Consider how you will share the research data ahead of time and determine if there will be cost implications.
How much data will there be? How long do I need to keep it? How will I access it in the future?
One of the most costly considerations in any IT implementation is the ability to store and restore data. It is important to weigh the cost of the storage against the risk of data loss. Using cheap desktop storage without any redundancy or backups could end up being the most expensive choice you make.
When planning storage architecture, take into account the following points:
- Calculate storage volumes by projecting a baseline and rate of growth for the duration of the project.
- Determine if the data is static with only periodic needs to access and/or update, or if the data is dynamic with frequent changes and updates.
- Determine backup and retention policies. If data were lost, is it possible to re-create the present state and how far back would you need to go to recover the present state?
For more information on storage infrastructure offerings at Stanford, and how to plan and implement storage for your research data, a new service from Stanford University Libraries, Data Management Services may help or fill out a HelpSU. Either your School’s IT support or central campus IT support can provide further information.
What are my sponsor’s storage retention and archive requirements? Do I need to keep my data available to them after my grant is finished?
Many sponsor agreements require the researcher to make and/or keep the research data publicly available for a significant amount of time after the grant has completed. If you have not considered how to meet those requirements and the potential cost implications, you may find yourself short on research funds in order to meet compliance requirements. The Stanford Digital Repository offered by Stanford Libraries may be an option, or fill out a HelpSU and either your School’s IT support or central campus IT support can provide further information on options available.
Can the security requirements of your data be identified? Will protected data (HIPAA, FERPA, PHI, etc.) as defined in Stanford’s Data Classification Guidelines make up my research data?
Both the University and many sponsors have specific requirements for handling, transmitting, and storing certain types of data used in research. Familiarize yourself with those details ahead of time: it can be costly if you hadn’t anticipated your data protection needs until after the fact.
What applications does my project require?
You need licensed software for all your current systems and any additional computers you may purchase. You might also need additional user licenses for your project applications. The applications you use may undergo several updates or revisions over the duration of your project, ensure that you have an application maintenance contract or budget for upgrades. Look at Software Licensing.
How is all of this going to stay running? Does my research group possess the appropriate level of expertise to support my computing resources? Do I want my researchers spending their time patching servers? Should I really use my research assistants to run this critical environment?
As computing needs become more fundamental to your research, ensure that you have support options covered. You don’t want to suspend research to address repairs or problems. Knowing who the local network administrators and systems/storage administrators are and how to contact them in the event of problems is important. They can help to schedule ongoing maintenance to ensure interruptions to your research are minimized. The cost to have your environment managed by IT professionals may be less than you expect. Fill out a HelpSU and either your School’s IT support or central campus IT support can provide further information on options available.
Can it be plugged it into the wall? Are the local facilities adequate to support the new computing infrastructure?
Your new research equipment may not have been taken into account when the building was planned and occupancy assigned. “Plugging in” new equipment, while it may function, places an unanticipated load on power resources. Also, this new load has unintended effects for the building cooling and heating loads.
If specific plans have not been made to house your project’s equipment, you should start by reviewing Stanford’s Sustainability Guidelines. Contact your local facilities manager or building manager before installing anything beyond a typical laptop or desktop computer. If local facility expansion is required to house additional equipment, consider the total cost of ownership between housing equipment locally versus a central facility. Particularly, consider the level of equipment availability protection in the event of a disaster.
Fill out a HelpSU and either your School’s IT support or central campus IT support can provide further information on options available.