User-driven Cloud Implementation of environmental models and data for all

Thursday, 18 December 2014
R J Gurney1, Barbara J Percy2, Yehia Elkhatib3 and Gordon S Blair3, (1)University of Reading, Reading, RG6, United Kingdom, (2)University of Reading, Reading, United Kingdom, (3)University of Lancaster, Lancaster, United Kingdom
Environmental data and models come from disparate sources over a variety of geographical and temporal scales with different resolutions and data standards, often including terabytes of data and model simulations.  Unfortunately, these data and models tend to remain solely within the custody of the private and public organisations which create the data, and the scientists who build models and generate results. Although many models and datasets are theoretically available to others, the lack of ease of access tends to keep them out of reach of many.

We have developed an intuitive web-based tool that utilises environmental models and datasets located in a cloud to produce results that are appropriate to the user. Storyboards showing the interfaces and visualisations have been created for each of several exemplars. A library of virtual machine images has been prepared to serve these exemplars. Each virtual machine image has been tailored to run computer models appropriate to the end user. Two approaches have been used; first as RESTful web services conforming to the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) Web Processing Service (WPS) interface standard using the Python-based PyWPS; second, a MySQL database interrogated using PHP code. In all cases, the web client sends the server an HTTP GET request to execute the process with a number of parameter values and, once execution terminates, an XML or JSON response is sent back and parsed at the client side to extract the results. All web services are stateless, i.e. application state is not maintained by the server, reducing its operational overheads and simplifying infrastructure management tasks such as load balancing and failure recovery. A hybrid cloud solution has been used with models and data sited on both private and public clouds. The storyboards have been transformed into intuitive web interfaces at the client side using HTML, CSS and JavaScript, utilising plug-ins such as jQuery and Flot (for graphics), and Google Maps APIs.

We have demonstrated that a cloud infrastructure can be used to assemble a virtual research environment that, coupled with a user-driven development approach, is able to cater to the needs of a wide range of user groups, from domain experts to concerned members of the general public.