Over the past year, the University of Washington and UW Medicine have been at the heart of the city of Seattle’s Covid-19 response: researchers studying social distancing and how the virus spreads on our communities, volunteers collecting and distributing supplies, clinical vaccine trials, and a partnership with the city to process over 2 million test samples at no cost to residents – all of which have helped Seattle maintain one of the lowest Covid-19 rates of major US cities. And with so many departments and teams working together, often involving clinical patient data, an adaptable and secure info-sharing system is absolutely necessary.
Most people are familiar with cloud storage where photos, documents and other files can be stored on a remote server and retrieved in the future from any number of devices. On the other hand, cloud computing can be likened to the world’s largest research supercomputer, processing vast amounts of information with far more computing power, storage and network capacity than any traditional campus data center could dream of.
Cloud computing is based on “renting out” unused computing capacity in huge data centers operated by companies like Amazon, Google or, in this case, Microsoft. “The most notable difference is [the cloud] removes the need for a large upfront investment in hardware,” says Robert Fabiano, Senior Systems Engineer of TECHdesk, the IT services shared by the UW Medicine Departments of Anesthesiology & Pain Medicine (APM) and Surgery. “You don’t need to invest in the infrastructure that comes with owning or renting a data center, such as electricity, cooling or physical security.” Cloud computing also makes it possible to quickly construct complex Digital Research Environments (DREs), where researchers can generate customizable workspaces and do science with cloud-based secure data, which otherwise would be cost prohibitive.