John Milton coined the phrase “silver lining” in the early 17th century. It refers to the bright edges of a cloud caused by light being diffracted by cloud droplets. The term generally is used to denote optimism.
Kate Keahey, a senior computer scientist at Argonne National Laboratory and senior scientist at the University of Chicago Consortium for Advanced Science and Engineering, recently argued for a “silver lining” in the internet cloud environment.
Cloud services and software have made expensive resources widely available on the internet, easily accessed through a browser. Clouds provide a convenient way to store data or images and enable users to share files and data.
“Through cloud interfaces, users can create digital artifacts that capture their experimental environment,” Keahey says. “And that means that the cloud could be used to allow people to recreate the experiment environment and repeat the experiment.”
Arguably, several challenges remain. A fully packaged experiment needs to include the experimental workflow and any resulting data analysis or visualization. More important, in order to be easily redeployable, the experiment must be accompanied by explanatory text – information about the design and methodology choices as well as the actual experimental steps and other images or data that make reproducibility possible.
Even then, experiments need to be published in such a way that they are easy to discover and reference. Unlike traditional research, digital media typically need systems that help interpret them. Here is where the cloud shines.
As an example, Keahey cites Chameleon, a reconfigurable cloud testbed she directs at the University of Chicago. A Chameleon experiment can be fully represented as a collection of digital artifacts: images, software, notebooks, or data. Moreover, Chameleon has been integrated with a digital publishing platform, allowing users to publish links to such collections, as well as providing direct access to research artifacts already published.
Using shareable instruments helps package experimental environments simply as a side-effect of using them, obviating the need to burden researchers with packaging issues and leaving them free to do the actual science, Keahey says. She is hopeful that the combination of clouds and shareable technology will have a silver lining – that they will “get us closer to creating a research marketplace where playing with experiments of others becomes a viable and natural part of doing research.”
For the full article, see K. Keahey, “The Silver Lining,” IEEE Internet Computing 24(4): 55-59, 2020.