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The Freedom of Science as a Service

By Rob Mitchum // February 12, 2013

“Software as a Service,” or SaaS, is a concept that has revolutionized the way people use their computers. Every time you check your e-mail on Gmail, stream a movie over Netflix or customize a radio station on Pandora, you’re accessing an SaaS through a browser that saves you the trouble of installing programs and storing data locally on your own computer. In an essay written for O’Reilly Radar, Renee DiResta argues for swapping out the first S in SaaS for “science,” creating online tools for scientists to outsource time-intensive and expensive processes such as specialized experiments and data sharing, storage and analysis.


Perhaps we can facilitate scientific progress by streamlining the process. Science as a service (SciAAS?) will enable researchers to save time and money without compromising quality. Making specialized resources and institutional expertise available for hire gives researchers more flexibility. Core facilities that own equipment can rent it out during down time, helping to reduce their own costs. The promise of science as a service is a future in which research is more efficient, creative, and collaborative.


In the comments to the article and on his blog, CI director Ian Fosterresponded, agreeing that science as a service has the power to free up researchers’ time and budget and talking about one of the CI’s own SciAAS initiatives:

This article echoes several themes that I speak to often. In my conception, every researcher is an entrepreneur, and researchers, like entrepreneurs, should be able to run their (virtual) operations from coffee shops. Science as a service frees researchers to work when and where they want, while also saving them time and money.

For many researchers, tasks concerned with managing (collecting, storing, annotating, indexing, analyzing, sharing, archiving) data are among the most time-consuming. Thus, my colleagues and I established Globus Online ( to deliver research data management as a service. The data that Globus Online manages sits at sequencing centers, computer centers, in cloud storage services, and on laboratory computers; Globus Online services run on Amazon computers.

Our first Globus Online service focuses on file movement; several thousand people use it routinely to move large quantities of data (more than 10 petabytes to date) rapidly, reliably, and securely between hundreds of endpoints. During 2013, we’ll be adding data sharing, cataloging, analysis, and other functions.

Globus Online is operated by the University of Chicago as a non-profit service for the research community. Please take a look and provide feedback if you can.

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