Research VMs @ Rice

Rice's CRC employs AWS-certified cloud research support engineers; and we are experienced in deploying and scaling research application stacks on:

We also maintain our own private research cloud behind the Rice firewall, called ORION.

The CRC is platform-agnostic. Our job is to get you on the best resources for your research agenda, and to help you scale your computational work as effectively and sustainably as possible. Cloud technology is a powerful tool in getting more work done faster and in nurturing collaboration and reproducibility.

ORION Basics (Rice's private research cloud)

To access ORION, please apply for an account.

Once your account has been approved, you can access the ORION web interface: .

This link is accessible through Rice campus internet or via Rice VPN when you are off campus.

Commercial and Rice Private Cloud Example Use Cases

Use Case A: Lightweight, reproducible, interactive environments (Commercial Cloud or ORION)

Some jobs, like data visualization and lightweight interactive computing have core dependencies that can take some work to set up, but then are relatively easily reproduced. Virtualization is the ideal infrastructural technology for such use cases.

Whether you are:

  • Spinning up several identical MATLAB instances for your class
  • Quickly standing up a database server for collaborative research analysis: SQL Workshop Webinar
  • Pulling down data for custom, exploratory data analysis: CDC Data Viz Example
  • Launching controlled workbook environments for your class or workshop: CRC Data Science Workshops
  • Accessing specialized hardware like cutting-edge GPU's

Virtual machines on campus or in the cloud can allow you to minimize downtime, increase reproducibility, and expand your community without making long-term hardware investments or bogging your own computers down with large and sometimes conflicting software installations.

Use case B: Medium-sized computing jobs (RDF Isilon + ORION)

The virtual machines on our private cloud, ORION, can access your RDF data share as a mounted just like your laptop, as a mounted file system. Users with workloads that are too large for their laptop but not big enough for the supercomputers will often:

  1. Log into an ORION VM and attach their RDF Isilon fileshare
  2. Load a chunk of their data onto the VM for analysis
  3. Export the results to the RDF
  4. Repeat

This solution has its limits -- file I/O here is not fast enough to support things like database connections. But for medium-sized workloads, ORION and the RDF make a very good team.

Use Case C: Interactive research applications (RDF Isilon + ORION)

Researchers sometimes find themselves with large datasets and relatively simple tasks that need to be performed on them by a human, such as interactive simulations. By connecting an ORION VM with the appropriate software to the RDF Isilon, a researcher can often achieve results otherwise unobtainable on their local workstations. This configuration is a perfect match for prototyping applications that will later be deployed to the commercial cloud, which can scale to a degree not available to our on-premises resources.

Sometimes, a lightweight web application is a good solution for this problem. By serving the large dataset up to the researcher and their team, on demand, otherwise insoluble problems can be creatively addressed, and new insights can be garnered quickly. Applications like this are typically developed by the research team, but the CRC does consult on such projects, which are kept behind the Rice firewall.

In rare cases, RDF Isilon data, served via an ORION VM, is made available via a public IP address. However, the CRC does not support web hosting, and the Information Security Office maintains strict controls over machines with public IP's.