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Sustainability changes to NeCTAR Cloud at Intersect Australia

01 July 2016

The NSW node of the NeCTAR Research Computing Cloud moved to a consumption model to sustain its future in the national eResearch landscape from July 1. Here's what this means to you.

Intersect has fully participated in the National eResearch Collaboration Tools And Resources project that seeded and established what we know today as the NeCTAR Research Cloud. This project and service were made possible through seed capital investment via the Australian Government's Department of Education National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Scheme, administered in this case by the University of Melbourne as lead agent. 
 
The NeCTAR Cloud operating model is predicated on NCRIS funding augmented by the co-contribution of eight participating nodes, nominated roughly on a geographic basis and selected by competitive process. Intersect's initially contracted node model was based on member opt-in prepaid capacity plus operating expenses via consolidated revenue for the term of the original agreement. 
 
The net effect was the appearance of free-to-researcher cloud computing, and the consequence was limited evaluation of the utility or value of the service delivered. A limited number of members chose to commercially opt-in in the face of the 'free' alternative and the product/service level did not reflect that required for production-level systems. 
 
Initial obligations concluded on 27 December 2015 and we continued to operate the NSW node in good faith under the same terms and conditions to date, acknowledging the assistance of the NSW State Government Research Attraction and Acceleration Programme. We also realised that our member and customer research projects required an improved range of higher performance virtual computing products and production-ready services, so in mid-2015 we created and launched OwnTime Cloud, exclusive to Intersect Australia, operating on a consumption billing basis - that is, user-pays. 
 
Today, both clouds operate reliably in the national context through close cooperation with NeCTAR Core Services and the other federated nodes. They are experiencing growing adoption, and our intention is to confidently sustain them and continue to improve researcher experience. We must do so in a context of uncertain funding, and this means we are making some changes. 
 
Through an intensive consultative process in the first half of 2015 our members, Board and management determined the most sustainable path forward is to move NSW NeCTAR Cloud to a similar user-pays model as OwnTime to achieve:
  • Service continuity for research projects that depend on NeCTAR Cloud.
  • Increased equity for participating organisations by ending cross-subsidisation.
  • Defined future for the investment in our NSW eResearch Nexus datacentres.
  • Retention of our specialist research cloud technical resources.
  • Dependable revenue stream to maintain services
  • Improved utilisation and distribution of cloud resources by valuing consumption

What does this mean for you?
 

National

Federally this means Intersect's co-contribution model shifts to being consumption based within the NeCTAR project, and our participation will continue assuming the current level of NCRIS funding is at least maintained. Models at other nodes are independent of this decision, though NeCTAR's premise is that each participating organisation must be by arrangement with a co-contributing node.
 

Organisation

Organisationally, members join OwnTime customers in choosing to opt-in by pre-payment or post-payment, or opt out entirely. Participating organisation research projects are aggregated into a single monthly account (known as a Time Plan) for their organisation, based on published OwnTime rates. Every Intersect member has been consulted and informed about the change.
 

Project

Individually, researcher experience at participating members may largely remain unchanged, with one exception. Requests for NeCTAR Cloud allocations are additionally escalated to and require approval by their organisation to ensure investment prioritisation alignment with the research strategy of the organisation. Your organisation will also likely review the cloud computing projects it funds from time to time.
 

Personal

If your organisation opts out from future NeCTAR Cloud consumption, you may still be able to come to a private arrangement or work with a partner member/customer. That is, Intersect can enter into direct-to-researcher Time plans if a funding source is available. If this is not possible, we will comply with the direction of your organisation in regards to future service provision.
 
We at Intersect hope that you'll appreciate that these changes for our node of the NeCTAR Cloud are a pragmatic solution to the set of constraints faced, and that we have carefully weighed all alternatives to find the most sustainable path with least individual research project impact.
 
Contact: For questions or more information please mail Time@intersect.org.au and we'll get back to you ASAP.