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How Ronin built ‘Uber for supercomputers’ for Adelaide University

How Ronin built ‘Uber for supercomputers’ for Adelaide University

Created pay-as-you-go platform for university researchers

University of Adelaide

University of Adelaide

Credit: Dreamstime

Independent software vendor Ronin has set up an Uber-style cloud platform for supercomputers using Amazon Web Services (AWS). 

The Canberra-based AWS partner built a prototype “orchestration engine” -- also named Ronin --  for researchers at the University of Adelaide, which would help them simplify their usage of AWS cloud solutions and help them analyse genomic data. 

The solution works by allowing researchers can set up their own cloud, pay for it by the minute and build their own supercomputer clusters.   

According to Ronin founder and CEO Nathan Albrighton, the prototype was inspired by work the AWS select consulting partner had previously conducted with Australian research agency CSIRO. 

“We set out on this journey with Ronin to build research environments in the cloud in a really easy to understand manner,” he told ARN. “We realised that becoming an expert in cloud would actually help researchers become experts in their fields, so we built a prototype.” 

Founded in 2015, Ronin now has a team of up to 40 people both in Canberra and, as of recently, California. 

Ronin first began working with AWS in 2016 and began working on a proof-of-concept for the orchestration engine two years later.  

“We showed it to AWS and said we will help you get as many researchers on this and it started from there,” Albrighton explained. “When we had an early version of Ronin up and running, we showed it to the University of Adelaide. We realised it would help their innovation into the cloud and it became a really great match.”   

When Ronin first began working with the university’s researchers, they were, to quote Albrighton, "staring at a crazy amount” of AWS solution offers on their dashboards. 

“The list just grows bigger and bigger as Amazon innovates. As you get more cloud tools, you just go deeper and deeper with the list of solutions,” he explained.  

“So it becomes it becomes a tough to just keep up without knowing where things are up to”, let alone controlling it and providing an enterprise environment.” 

In addition, Ronin sought to address the ‘fluctuating’ nature of academic research, especially in the field of genomics and bioinformatics, which requires the use of supercomputers to analyse vast quantities of data.  

“For example, a researcher may need need 50 terabytes of storage and a supercomputer to process that for the next three or four months,” Albrighton said. “From that there will be 15 findings and only a very small pool of resources to achieve that. 

“The cloud is perfect for building a supercomputer that you can pay by the minute. It’s like Uber for supercomputers: I might need 11,000 core cluster that I can't afford to buy outright, but I can rent it for the next 75 minutes, all within my budget.” 

Albrighton added that a key part of the Ronin platform means every research asset built on it is tracked to the dollar. 

Adelaide was one of the first universities to begin widely using Ronin in Australia and globally. Now, two years on, the solution is, according to Ronin, being used by both universities and research organisations around the world.  

Ronin also worked with the University of Sydney to deploy the AWS Public Dataset Program and create a gene data base of the Tasmanian devil.  

The key part from Albrighton is now educating research teams about using its solutions and getting them comfortable with it. 

“We set up workshops just to make sure by the end of an hour, we have 40 brand new people who've never used the cloud before all feeling comfortable with their supercomputer or their new storage device,” he said.  

“We make sure that that feedback loop is something taken into account and we've got a real heavy focus on what the users want and need.” 


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Tags University of AdelaideAWSAmazing Web ServicesRoninNathan Albrighton

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