How Is Cloud Computing Changing Scientific Research?

Scientists comb through mountains of data each day while researching. Cloud computing has the ability to change scientific research in ways we can't even comprehend.

If you've got a smartphone, the chances are high that you've got at least one cloud account to store your pictures and videos. Even if you didn't sign up for one, most smart devices come with an account included in their software. 

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Cloud computing isn't just changing how we store and share our pictures — it's also having an impact on scientific research. How is cloud storage impacting science and what changes can we expect to see in the future?

A Surplus of Data

Modern scientific research generates a massive amount of data. Things like the human genome take up roughly 200 gigabytes, and that genome isn't even perfectly sequenced. 

Current tools can generate gigabytes or terabytes of data, leaving human researchers scrambling to find places to store it. 

A hard drive farm big enough to save that much data would take up most of a room. Cloud computing removes the need for on-site hard-drives, creating more room for experiments or equipment.

If researchers pair the collected data with machine learning algorithms and artificial intelligence, they could potentially get even more out of it. These programs analyze the data for patterns that would take human researchers weeks or months to find on their own.

Cutting Costs as the Market Grows

The cloud computing market is exploding. In 2008, the industry was only worth $46 billion. In 2012, that number tripled to $150 billion, with roughly 72 percent of businesses making the switch to cloud computing.

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While you do have to pay for cloud storage for anything above 1 gigabyte, in most cases, it ends up being more cost effective to use the cloud than for each lab to purchase and maintain their on-site hard drives. 

It can also help them make discoveries faster — according to experts, utilizing cloud computing and parallel processing, researchers can get the answers that they're looking for 1000 times faster than by relying on in-house hardware.

Communication and Collaboration

Perhaps one of the most exciting applications of cloud computing in scientific research is the potential for communication and collaboration between research teams. 

While most scientists are very protective of their experiments, collaboration is not unheard of, and having all the data stored on the cloud makes it easier. Instead of shipping a USB flash drive or hard drive to the other team, all you have to do is give them the password to your cloud account, and they can access all the data remotely.

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Security is always a concern with any networked system, whether it's stored in the cloud or on a physical drive, but cloud storage is more secure than most people think. 

Your password protects everything and most files are stored in no less than three locations - if there's a cascade failure in one of them, your data is still secure. 

If you want to share the files, you have the option of preventing anyone else from editing them, protecting your research while still fostering collaboration.

Closing Thoughts

Cloud storage is not a new concept, but it's becoming more affordable. Many companies have shunned the in-house data storage model in favor of using the cloud. 

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Scientists can potentially make more discoveries faster by utilizing this remote storage model and pairing it with tools like parallel processing, machine learning, and artificial intelligence.

Time will only tell what the future holds for cloud computing in scientific research. As it currently exists, it is an invaluable tool to reduce wasted lab space, encourage collaboration, and even find answers to questions that they don't know to ask yet. 

As it stands, cloud computing is set to become one of the most valuable tools for scientific research since the invention of the pencil. We can't wait to see what they come up with next!

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Megan Ray Nichols is a blogger and freelance science writer. She enjoys participating in conversations about engineering, technology and space exploration. Megan is also a regular contributor to Datafloq, Cerasis, and American Machinist. When she isn't writing, Megan loves watching movies, hiking, and stargazing. Subscribe to Schooled By Science today to keep up with scientific discoveries or follow Megan on Twitter.