Researchers are increasingly taking advantage of cloud services to support their IT needs. A number of services are available to Australian researchers that provide free access to cloud resources. Services include:
- NeCTAR Research Cloud, for hosting servers and software, as well as large processing computers
- CloudStor+, for online storage and sharing of files
- CloudStor, for transferring or distributing larger files.
All of these services can support secure multi-institutional, external and international access and data sharing.
NeCTAR cloud hosting
NeCTAR is partnering with Australian institutions and research organisations to create a national research cloud for Australian researchers. Victoria University (VU) has a development allocation for use in VU research projects and services on the cloud, as well as several allocations dedicated to specific research projects.
The NeCTAR cloud allows research projects and programs to host servers and therefore IT services as needed, for example web applications or computers to perform operations and calculations on demand.
In practice, VU staff and students have two options: do-it-yourself or use the VU research development allocation. Currently, VU staff are using the cloud for modelling and simulation (in place of a large computer), mobile phone data collection, simulating business to business services, developing data portals, VU's Research Data Australia database and for online collaboration environments.
Access the NeCTAR cloud
- Do-it-yourself: From the NeCTAR website you can read guides, support documentation and log in to the dashboard. By selecting "Victoria University" as your organisation you can log in using your VU AD username (starting with 'e' or 's') and password. If you have trouble logging in see the Australian Access Federation (AAF) page. You can contact the eResearch team to help you consider and apply for a project allocation.
- Use the VU allocation: To use the VU research development allocation, please contact the eResearch team.
Is the NeCTAR cloud like drop box?
No. It does not provide file storage or sharing as a desktop service, but it does provide storage for servers that you can use with sufficient IT knowledge. For a drop box like service, see Cloudstor+. For secure long term storage or sharing files with VU staff and students we recommend using the VU R: drive.
However, the NeCTAR cloud has been used to collect data and create web based collaboration environments.
I've logged in to NeCTAR myself - now what?
Using the NeCTAR cloud yourself (do-it-yourself option) requires intermediate to expert IT system administration knowledge. If that's not for you then please contact the eResearch team to discuss further. Otherwise, here are a few tips:
- Generally speaking, you use images or snapshots to launch/start an instance (a running virtual machine) under a given project allocation. By default everyone has a 2 CPU allocation, a personal play space in which to run a server for up to 3 months.
- Use the NeCTAR Image Catalogue to determine what image to start with and if there are special instructions. NeCTAR supports Linux operating almost exclusively and only some Linux variants are guaranteed long term support.
- Make sure you've created a Security Group or changed the default to allow external access to the correct ports (e.g. 22 for SSH, 80 for HTTP) before launching any instances. This is like a network level firewall.
- Make sure you've imported an SSH public key or created an SSH key pair and saved it before launching any instances. You won't get a chance to set a root password, you must use SSH keys to access the instance once started.
- When launching an image remember to select your security group and your security key in the options.
- You'll need to use SSH and your private key to log in to the newly created server instance. Install and configure new packages at will using the command line.
- Server packages and data are not stored unless you take a Snapshot. Double check that all Snapshots complete. Terminating an instance generally results in loss of the operating system, package configurations and data.
- However, NeCTAR now supports persistent disk storage using volumes. An instance can be launched from a volume if it contains a boot disk or copy of a bootable image. Alternatively, a volume can be attached to a running instance as an extra disk. You can also snapshot a volume.
- Many problems on NeCTAR seem to result in your mounted disk going read-only. Performing a hard reboot on your instance will fix this problem.
- Server IP addresses on NeCTAR are randomly allocated for each new instance, so try not to hardcode these in applications or the operating system. If you require a host/server name, you'll need to use a separate DNS service or contact the eResearch team to discuss a VU domain.
- Rebooting an Image will preserve the current IP and the current disk state, so try hard rebooting first, not stopping and starting over.
CloudStor+ storage solution
CloudStor+ is a high-performing and secure personal file storage solution, enabling researchers to easily and reliably store and share files "in the Cloud".
How it works
- Up to 100GB of storage is available to individual researchers free of charge. For researchers or research groups wanting more than 100GB, charges apply (in the vicinity of $30/month per Terabyte).
- The storage is provided within Australia, ensuring very rapid storage and retrieval, as well as avoiding any data sovereignty issues.
- Data uploaded onto the platform is geographically replicated and distributed, with a minimum of three copies being maintained at any given time. The storage capacity of the system can be expanded rapidly in response to demand, and enables the use of a range of storage types.
- Unlike some other services, it is not necessary to copy files on all of your devices. Files stored in CloudStor+ can be retrieved very quickly by virtue of the nodes being located in Australia and connected directly to the Network backbone (initially at 10Gbps).
- CloudStor+ can be synchronised to the desktop or accessed via the Web or from mobile devices.
- The system is based on the community-developed ownCloud software on the user-facing interface.
Store files with CloudStor+. By selecting "Victoria University" as your organisation you can log in using your VU username (starting with 'e' or 's') and password. If you have trouble logging in see the Australian Access Federation (AAF) page.
Note: CloudStor+ is not recommended for long term secure retention of data and research records. The VU R: Drive (research data storage) has been established for this purpose.
CloudStor large file transfer
The AARNet CloudStor service allows people to send or distribute a large file to a number of internal and external colleagues. Despite the name, you cannot "store" files in CloudStor for any reasonable period. CloudStor is the equivalent of email for large files.
How it works
From your browser you compose a short email message to one or more people and upload one large file. People are sent an email with a link to the file for access. The limitations are:
- 1 file at once (but you can zip)
- size up to 100GB
- up to 100 recipients
- files accessible for 20 days only
- older browsers sometimes have a 2GB limit (seems to work well with Firefox).
For more information see the AARNet website.
Send a file using CloudStor. By selecting "Victoria University" as your organisation you can log in using your VU username (starting with 'e' or 's') and password. If you have trouble logging in see the Australian Access Federation (AAF) page.
To receive a file via CloudStor the recipient simply clicks on the link provided in the email they receive.
Note: Anyone can receive files. By default, only Australian university staff or students can send files, as we are all a part of the Australian Access Federation (AAF). If you need other collaborators to send you files (international, industry, non-university contacts) then speak with the eResearch team. We can provide them with a collaborator AAF account.
Note: Depending on your network speed, uploading large files can take a long time. Some older browsers can get stuck with very large files. If you need to share many files frequently, or for longer periods of time, you should try either VU's R: Drive for internal sharing, or Cloudstor+ for external sharing. To discuss your needs further, please speak with the eResearch team.
For more information on use of NeCTAR and AARNet CloudStor/CloudStor+, please contact the eResearch team.