The cloud scores NIH approval for gene research

Researchers' outcry convinced the federal medical research agency to reverse course and let them take advantage of the cloud


After pushback from researchers, the National Institutes of Health has reversed course and now will allow researchers to use cloud services to store and analyze content from the Database of Genotypes and Phenotypes, a key asset in genetics research. The NIH had viewed the use of the cloud as a risk to the privacy of the research participants.

Of course, the cloud systems must meet the data-use and security standards set forth by the NIH. For the most part, the larger cloud providers, such as Amazon Web Services, Microsoft, and Google, comply with these requirements.

This decision is more than good news for NIH researchers looking to stretch their funding dollars; it's a sign of larger trends to come. One by one, government and commercial entities that were once suspicious of the cloud are opening up to the idea. Where they once belittled the cloud as "trendy" or "insecure," they now are accepting the realities: better cost, good performance, and sufficient security.

The combination of the cloud's strengths means researchers at the NIH can do more with less -- they can solve more problems, faster. Thanks to the efficiencies that cloud computing brings, they'll have a better chance of solving some health issue, which in turn ultimately save or at least improve people's lives.

Commercial applications of the cloud may not have the same nobility of improving people's health and saving lives -- ultimately, companies turn to the cloud to save money. Still, the mind-set shift is critical: Only when there is tangible justification to use a new technology or method will even the most rigid policies be reworked to take advantage.

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