UMass Amherst Engineer Michael Zink Leads Research Team Developing New Cloud Computing Platforms

Joins colleagues from Boston University and Northeastern University
Mike Zink
Mike Zink

A team of researchers headed by Michael Zink, an engineer at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, will develop a testbed for research and development of new cloud computing platforms thanks to a grant from the National Science Foundation. The collaborative project with Boston University and Northeastern University could reach a total of $5 million if fully funded after a review by the NSF in three years. The funding for UMass Amherst is $888,412 for the first three years.

Cloud computing, the delivery of services over the internet, plays an important role in supporting most applications we currently use, Zink says. “Testbeds such as the one being constructed by the research team are critical for enabling new cloud technologies and making the services they provide more efficient and accessible to a wide range of scientists focusing on research in the area of computer systems,” he says.

Zink is an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering (ECE) at UMass Amherst, and will be working with Orran Krieger, ECE professor at Boston University and Peter Desnoyers, associate professor of computer sciences at the Northeastern University Khoury College of Computer Sciences.

Zink says,  “This testbed will accelerate innovation in cloud technologies, technologies affecting almost all of computing today.” By providing capabilities that currently are only available to researchers within a few large commercial cloud providers, the new testbed will allow diverse communities to exploit these technologies, thus “democratizing” cloud-computing research and allowing increased collaboration between the research and open-source communities.

This project will construct and support a testbed for research and experimentation into new cloud platforms – the underlying software which provides cloud services to applications. Testbeds such as this are critical for enabling research into new cloud technologies. This is research that requires experiments which potentially can change the operation of the cloud itself.

The testbed will integrate capabilities previously developed in the CloudLab testbed with the Mass Open Cloud(MOC), a production cloud hosted by Boston University’s Hariri Institute for Computing and developed through a partnership of academia (BU, Harvard University, Northeastern, MIT and UMass), government (Mass Tech Collaborative, U.S. Air Force) and industry (Red Hat, Intel, Two Sigma, NetApp, Cisco). Over the past six years, the MOC has grown into a community of thousands of users and provides the ideal environment for this purpose.

The testbed and the MOC are possible because of the Massachusetts Green High-Performance Computing Center, a 90,000 square-foot, 15-megawatt facility located in Holyoke and established as a joint venture between BU, Harvard, MIT, Northeastern and UMass. “An important part of the MOC has always been to enable cloud computing research by the academic community,” says Krieger. “This project dramatically expands our ability to support researchers both by providing much richer capabilities and by expanding from a regional to a national community of researchers.”

The new testbed will combine proven software technologies with the MOC while adding new technologies, including programmable hardware called field programmable gate arrays (FPGA). FPGAs provide capabilities not present in other facilities available to researchers today, enabling investigation into hardware acceleration techniques. The combination of a testbed and production cloud allows for work on a larger scale compared to isolated testbeds, reproducible experimentation based on realistic user behavior and applications, as well as a model for transitioning successful research results to practice. All of these features are currently not offered by commercial cloud providers to computer systems researchers.

The community outreach portion of the project aims to identify, attract and retain interested researchers, and to educate them in the use of the facility. Tutorials, workshops and webinars will offer training in the use of the testbed. The project will support educating the next generation of researchers in this field, and existing relationships with industrial partners of the affiliated production cloud will accelerate technology transfer from academic research to practical use.

The testbed also offers a unique sustainability model by allowing additional computing resources to be dynamically moved from institutional uses into the testbed and back again, providing a path to growth beyond the initial testbed.