Making Research Easier: The Research Storage Platform Project

Shouldn’t a research-focused institution like WashU have the best research tools? WashU IT’s Research Infrastructure Services (RIS) team thinks so too. That’s why RIS works diligently to provide services to researchers focused on high performance storage and computing and applications, spanning across all our campuses, making the hosting and sharing of research easier than ever. But WashU didn’t always have the IT-based research support it has now. In 2017, RIS received its first capital funded project: The Research Storage Platform. This service, which all WashU researchers are able to use today, was designed by an entirely new team whose goal was to help facilitate the sharing and storage of research data in a way that was simpler, easier to use, consistent, and secure.

The 3.5-million-dollar capital project, which initially invested in 1.5 petabytes of storage, provided a true foundation for a University-wide storage platform that allowed access to 5 terabytes of free, centralized storage for each faculty member. Using the new platform, faculty members would have access to a new data directory with a consistent, user-friendly structure, where data sets could easily be identified and shared securely through access control mechanisms supported by WUSTL key.

Another benefit of the project, is its mixed cost model, which offers researchers a greater level of customization in their storage options. While the project funded 5 terabytes of free storage, researchers have the option to opt into a consumption model, where they only pay for what they use, broken down into three different tiers of cost. Alternatively, the project also offers a subscription option, in which storage is broken into 100 terabyte chunks. Finally, for users seeking even more data storage, RIS offers the option to buy physical storage by the capital asset. This option also has the added benefit of other additional benefits and features of an enterprise-level service, such as 90-day backups, tier performance, access to daily data snapshots, and high-performance data transfer in Globus both within and outside the University.

The flexibility in storage options offers not only convenience for researchers, but also opens the door to increased growth in the field of WashU’s research and collaboration capabilities. For example, a single researcher can start with a 5-terabyte storage environment, and eventually grow it to a multi-petabyte environment, without any pressure of feeling restricted. Because of this, what started as a 1.5 petabyte research storage platform at WashU, has grown into a commitment of over 17 petabytes in just three years, demonstrating the University’s clear devotion and passion for research. This uptick also demonstrates that our researchers are working together in an environment of greater collaboration than ever before. This increase in storage usage, has also led to a beneficial decrease in cost for data storage. Where data storage used to be $25/month per terabyte (beyond the initial 5 free terabytes), it has now reduced to just $12/month per terabyte as of July 1, 2021.

While the RIS team has been thrilled to see how this project has changed the research landscape of WashU in such a short time, they also continue to look ahead for new ways to improve research at the University. Since the establishment of the Research Storage Platform, RIS has also developed a High Performance Computing Platform, an applications space for researchers, and offers an electronic laboratory notebook (ELN) service, even further expanding researchers options. Currently, the RIS team is working closely with the University libraries on both campuses to integrate data management plans to use their storage platform. With so much progress and growth already made in WashU’s research community, RIS is thrilled to see what more they can do to enhance the future of research at the University.