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Academia Reinvents The Cloud

In today's IT world, we often look to hardware and software vendors -- from big companies with big R&D budgets to enterprising startups -- to set the agenda for the next great leap in computing. But academic institutions are a driving force behind the advanced concepts that eventually become the roadmap for future technology innovations.

The first graphical web browser and cloud computing are great examples of academic projects that have had a massive impact on enterprise IT. It's important that we continue to closely monitor other developments in academia to gauge what our technology may look like in the future. And after reviewing two recent National Science Foundation (NSF) projects -- Chameleon and CloudLab -- it's evident that academic research is on its way to reinventing the cloud.

The Chameleon project describes itself as "a large-scale, reconfigurable experimental environment for next-generation cloud research." Infrastructure and software optimization is the name of the game here, and Chameleon will allow researchers to do a deep dive into the hardware and software that supports cloud computing.

Chameleon strives to find better programmatic solutions to speed up next-generation clouds for users. The project also has a disposition toward testing low-power, multi-core processors, which could turn out to anchor the heart of green data center buildouts in the future.

And while Chameleon focuses on improving infrastructure components within a cloud environment, CloudLab takes a higher-level approach. It allows researchers to easily mix and match cloud infrastructure components in an attempt to build the ultimate cloud solution. The components may be common tools that are already in production today -- or they could be brand new or heavily modified cloud elements.

In a way, Chameleon is much like a cloud Erector Set where infrastructure pieces can be moved in, out, and around the cloud to offer different benefits and performances.

The two NSF projects were each granted $10 million in funding. To many in the IT world, $10 million doesn’t sound like a whole lot -- especially if you consider amounts spent on research funded by IT giants like Google, Microsoft, and IBM.

But academic research rarely demands big budgets to test cutting-edge proof-of-concept theories, and the ideas that originate within institutions of higher learning can be priceless. Once an idea or concept gains ground in academia, the torch is typically passed to the IT industry to refine and mold into usable technology.

Academic researchers can already stake a claim on the development of traditional cloud computing. But as many cloud users are finding, cookie-cutter cloud environments do not appropriately meet the requirements of every application and data flow.

This need has trickled back down to academia, and many of the same researchers that invented cloud in the first place are trying to figure out ways to better customize the cloud experience both at the cloud and the individual component level. It’s the next evolutionary step of cloud computing -- and one that academia is poised to take charge of again.