Dec 01 2014

Why the Massachusetts Open-Cloud Project Is a Big Deal

The three-year project will enable consumers to customize infrastructure and platform services to best meet their needs.

A project team of academia and industry experts is making headway on a multimillion-dollar cloud computing initiative announced by Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick in April.

If all goes as planned, the three-year project, known as the Massachusetts Open Cloud (MOC), will pave the way for cloud consumers to customize infrastructure and platform services to best meet their needs. Patrick is hopeful that MOC’s public cloud computing infrastructure will spur Big Data innovation in the state.

Azer Bestavros, director of the Rafik B. Hariri Institute for Computing and Computational Science & Engineering at Boston University, likens the new model to a shopping mall, where customers can choose from multiple retailers and mix and match products and services. In the cloud computing world, this model doesn’t exist, Bestavros says. “All you have are stores like Walmart. They own and operate everything.”

Boston University leads the MOC project team. The MOC project received $3 million in state funding, according to Bestavros. “We have commitments of up to $20 million from universities and industry.”

MOC is an architecture and a model for other governments, he adds. It functions similar to a shopping mall in that technologies from multiple MOC service providers will be located in the same location or data center. Ideally, MOC won’t be restricted to government customers. The general public and companies will be able to buy cloud services using an online user interface, much like the one offered by Amazon Web Services.

Cisco, Intel, Red Hat and Juniper Networks are among the growing number of companies partnering with the MOC project. Academia partners include Northeastern University, University of Massachusetts, Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Jan Mark Holzer, a senior consulting engineer at Red Hat, says his company is helping MOC build the cloud infrastructure around OpenStack. Red Hat has moved some hardware into the MOC-designated data center and will continue to install hardware and software for at least the next six months. Hozer stressed that the MOC and its member partners are not interested in promoting a particular vendor or product. It's an open project.

Hozer says he is hopeful that MOC will be open for research use fairly soon, which could mean months, rather than years.

It’s too early to say how much the MOC services will cost, but the price points have to be competitive because agencies aren’t required to use the services.

Using MOC to Power Smart City Services

An early adopter of MOC services will be the Smart-city Cloud-based Open Platform & Ecosystem. The cloud-based smart-city system will run on the MOC platform and will offer various services, which may include environmental services to monitor greenhouse gas emissions; transportation and mobility services to help reduce traffic congestion; and public-safety and security services to make data-driven decisions about dispatching police officers.

In the future, SCOPE customers will be citizens, urban planners and public servants who use these smart-city resources, Bestavros says. The group held a kickoff meeting in October and is currently defining short- and midterm goals. While SCOPE will operate on top of the MOC infrastructure, it is a separate project with different goals, personnel and funding, he adds. 

“Currently, we are working out a project schedule, coordinating a group of agile subteams to work on different aspects of the project, and defining our common goals and vision,” says Ruthbea Yesner Clarke, research director of the Smart Cities Strategies program at IDC. IDC is providing research on smart cities, cloud computing, worldwide best practices for civic clouds and is developing workshops and marketing materials to spread the word about SCOPE to state municipalities.

Yesner Clarke believes the project is the first of its kind in the United States. She says SCOPE shares some similarities with foreign efforts, such as the GovCloud in Hong Kong and the G-Cloud in Singapore.

As she explains: “The key long-term goals are to do something transformational and innovative, not incremental. We want to build a platform that has real-life applicability and usefulness and that will be used by the state and its municipalities to solve specific real-world problems. So this is not a theoretical exercise.”

The goal is to develop a SCOPE blueprint or template that other entities can replicate, Bestavros adds.


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