The Role of Cloud Computing in Coronavirus Vaccine Research

By: Tom Banta on April 15, 2020

The race for a COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine is well underway, with healthcare professionals and medical scientists around the world gathering and analyzing massive amounts of data in an effort to bring the pandemic to an end. While it might not be the first thing that springs to mind in biomedical research, cloud computing will play an important role in this process. Only cloud computing platforms provide the flexibility and access that will allow researchers to access the data and applications they need to develop potential coronavirus vaccines quickly and effectively.

How Cloud Computing Benefits Healthcare Research

To understand the role cloud technology could play in the rush to develop a COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine, it’s important to first look at how healthcare organizations are making use of cloud computing in general. Although the healthcare industry has been a bit slow to adopt new technology infrastructure, it has been making up ground in recent years by shifting from primarily on-premises data solutions to colocation data centers or cloud-based services.

Cost and reliability are often the key drivers in these decisions, especially as many of them look to move on from their outdated existing infrastructure, but the benefits of cloud adoption go far beyond these core requirements.

Scalability

Traditionally, hospitals and labs have been limited by their existing IT infrastructure. Only so much data can be stored in an on-premises server, and the number of applications running is similarly limited by the amount of available memory and processing resources. When those limits are reached, new equipment needs to be added in order for the work to scale beyond its current capacity.

Cloud technology allows healthcare organizations to increase this capacity dynamically, without having to wait for new equipment to be procured and incorporated into a deployment. This is especially important for government and educational institutions that also need to go through a lengthy bureaucratic process to approve such purchases, not to mention meet various compliance standards. For researchers, cloud computing ensures that their IT resources can expand to meet the demands of the moment, which is incredibly valuable in a crisis situation where time is a critical factor.

Shared Data

The distributed nature of cloud technology makes it far more accessible to multiple organizations than private networks. Data and applications stored in a cloud network can be accessed by anyone who has access to it, which allows for unprecedented transparency and data sharing, all within a secure framework. Many healthcare organizations see this ability to share and move data easily as the solution to the enduring problem of interoperability, making it possible for multiple medical providers to access the same patient data without having to go through the hassle of transferring it every time the patient goes to a new provider.

For researchers, it offers the ability to access a shared pool of data and testing results that can streamline processes and share knowledge much more rapidly to eliminate bottlenecks and redundancies. Cloud computing also makes it possible for healthcare professionals in the field to quickly and easily transmit on-site data to a shared location that researchers can access instantly.

Processing Power

Biomedical research is a resource-intensive endeavor that involves massive datasets and a huge array of possible variables. Most of that number-crunching is handled by high-performance computing (HPC) equipment capable of powering the machine learning algorithms capable of processing these big data workloads quickly.

Unfortunately, many researchers don’t have access to these resources, which creates bottlenecks that slow down the development of medical treatments. Thanks to cloud technology, healthcare organizations can rapidly increase their processing capacity and utilize a variety of cloud applications that would be cost-prohibitive to purchase and operate privately.

Healthcare Cloud Computing and Viral Research

Cloud computing demonstrated its potential effectiveness for viral research in recent years during West Africa’s Ebola crisis in 2014. Working closely with Sierra Leone’s Open Government Initiative (OGI), IBM deployed a variety of cloud computing resources to help health officials model the spread of the disease and identify key areas of need.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also began utilizing cloud technology as part of its ongoing effort to combat influenza in the wake of the 2009 H1N1 outbreak. Data is gathered from regional National Influenza Reference Centers (NIRCs) each year and uploaded into a cloud-based computing platform that is easily accessible to all authorized CDC scientists. With ready access to up-to-date information about the latest viral strains, researchers can collaborate more effectively and develop coronavirus vaccines more rapidly. This system has been instrumental in managing seasonal flu outbreaks over the last decade.

Cloud Computing and COVID-19 Coronavirus Vaccine Research

While the NIRC system has been effective at addressing seasonal flu, the early optimism about its ability to manage the spread of COVID-19 proved somewhat misplaced. The core philosophy of this approach to cloud-based healthcare research, however, remains quite sound. It’s simply a matter of mustering sufficient resources and infrastructure to cope with the true scope of the problem.

That’s why leading cloud computing companies have been quite proactive in their support of cloud-based healthcare research. IBM, for example, has made many of its cloud-based AI research resources available for free to medical professionals and scientists working toward COVID-19 drug treatments. That news followed a decision by Amazon Web Services (AWS) in late March to provide $20 million in cloud credits available as part of its AWS Diagnostic Development Initiative, which will subsidize research into diagnostic tools related to COVID-19 testing.

Oracle has also made headlines for its role in coronavirus vaccine development. The company’s experience with building cloud platforms for clinical trials allowed it to quickly roll out a pair of solutions, using its existing Oracle Clinical Trials Systems to gather data on COVID-19 drug testing and then building the COVID-19 Therapeutic Learning System. Donated to the US government and made free to all researchers, the COVID-19 Therapeutic Learning System serves as a repository for all COVID-19 treatments being administered. Armed with these cloud computing resources, Australian researchers are already closing in on a potential coronavirus vaccine candidate.

The Role of Data Centers and the Coronavirus Vaccine Fight

As healthcare providers and medical researchers turn to cloud computing services as they test treatments and potential vaccines for COVID-19, they will need reliable infrastructure that delivers high levels of uptime and data availability while also allowing them to quickly access leading cloud platforms. Many healthcare organizations are still tied to outdated legacy infrastructure that, while often reliable, doesn’t provide the direct cloud on-ramps they need to conduct research rapidly and effectively.

Colocation data centers can provide the best of both worlds with reliable infrastructure, extensive connectivity options, and on-site service support that minimizes the potential for contact during a pandemic. At vXchnge data centers, customers can use the in\site platform to manage every aspect of their deployment and troubleshoot any problems without having to set foot in the facility. Engineered for perfection, every vXchnge data center is backed by a 100% uptime SLA and delivers low-latency connectivity to leading cloud providers.

To learn more about how we’re doing our part to keep our clients up and running during the COVID-19 outbreak, talk to one of our colocation experts today.

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