A Helpful Guide to Cloud Computing in a Laboratory

How scientists use data security

Storing data in the cloud has become a central part of how many businesses operate on a daily basis. From small start-ups to huge multinationals, businesses from almost every industry imaginable are reliant on the cloud for storing and accessing all their important data, files and information in a secure, reliable location.

Unsurprisingly, IT businesses and software houses have led this cloud-first revolution – but other businesses and organisations aren’t far behind. This includes research teams and laboratory set-ups, which increasingly benefit from the cloud’s almost-limitless storage capacity.

The switch from on-site information storage to a cloud solution can be tricky for some laboratories to manage, especially when handling important and sensitive data. So, in this guide, we’re looking to shed a little light on cloud computing in the laboratory and how it can be effectively and securely implemented. We’ll also explore the benefits and concerns surrounding cloud computing in laboratories.

What is cloud computing?

Cloud computing encompasses the delivery of any hosted services over the internet. It works by enabling either private or public access to data and cloud applications online via remote physical servers, databases and computers.

While there are different types and access allowances, all cloud computing aims to provide simple, scalable access to computing resources and IT services. The main differences to be aware of are between public cloud computing and private.

A public cloud can sell services to anyone online, while a private cloud delivers hosted services to certain people with the barrier of specific access and permission settings.

Types of cloud computing

Cloud computing can be separated into three different types, including:

  • IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service): The third-party provider hosts servers, storage and other virtual computing resources which are made available to customers via the internet.
  • PaaS (Platform as a Service): Third-party providers host application development platforms and tools on their own infrastructure, making them available to customers using APIs, web portals or gateway software. 
  • SaaS (Software as a Service): This distribution software delivers software applications over the internet. Users can access the applications and services from anywhere at any time, as long as they have internet access.

What are the benefits of cloud computing for the laboratory?

Perhaps the greatest advantage of cloud computing for the majority of research suites and labs is the capacity to take on research tasks requiring almost limitless data sets, without the need for an on-site server.

When setting out a research plan, a lab team must identify the level of data they’ll need to record over the work period. This must then be measured against the storage capability of the institution – which in a pre-cloud landscape was often severely limited. Today, however, a lab’s access to data space is limited only by budget – with an ever-increasing capacity readily available.

Another huge benefit of cloud storage is the capacity to share data and results seamlessly and instantly across multiple locations. If a research team is part of a wider organisation working on the same project, this can really streamline how the different teams interact with each other. The real-time update capacity of cloud computing can help ensure that different teams aren’t simultaneously replicating workloads – creating greater efficiencies throughout organisations. This feature is also instrumental for remote working, which has become much more common post-pandemic. Regardless of where you are, you can access workloads, data and information at your convenience.

Furthermore, cloud computing can automatically timestamp and attribute uploaded data – so everyone knows who was responsible for every element of research and exactly when each data set was uploaded or updated. This additional clarity can reduce strain on admin, and again increase efficiency.

How can a laboratory implement cloud computing?

An important step for any business looking to implement cloud computing is drawing up a robust strategy before taking action. Stakeholders and decision-makers must consider the core business activities and storage requirements when deciding how to incorporate cloud computing.

All members of the business who access data and store information should be given a voice during this process. From the outset of the implementation process, it could be a good idea to hold a survey asking all relevant parties about how they currently access data and how they utilise computing services. This will provide insight into how the wider team will benefit from and use cloud computing. If a team does not routinely have access to a secure internet connection – changes to their working setup may need to be incorporated during the implementation of the cloud connectivity.

Once you understand how your teams will be using the new cloud services, you can review the different services on offer to make an informed decision on the platform you want to use.

Below, we’ll guide you through a couple of useful tips to help you find the cloud platform best suited to your needs.

  • Industry-specific experience: Look for a platform with relevant experience in working with other businesses in your industry. This experience will increase the chance that they’ve previously handled industry-specific challenges and means they can resolve issues much quicker. Not only this but if other research labs have been able to implement the cloud platform, then it means you should be able to trust them with yours.
  • Robust security measures: Although all cloud platforms will undoubtedly claim that their services are incredibly secure, their security measures must be explored. Try to find a provider within your budget offering the most important security features for your lab, such as encryption and authentication. Most will offer at least basic security as standard, but your requirements are likely to depend on how much you’re willing to spend, alongside the type and amount of research.
  • Comprehensive downtime support: There is always the risk with cloud computing that the systems may go down or services are interrupted. A quality cloud service provider should be able to offer downtime support. You should be aware of who is responsible for recovery in the case of outages.

The security concerns of implementing cloud computing and how to combat them

Naturally, many lab managers will be wary about switching to a cloud-first data system. It requires entrusting an off-site party with arguably your most valuable commodity, your research and data. And while many cloud platforms boast some of the world’s greatest IT security professionals diligently protecting everything stored on their servers, it can pay to still be a little wary.

Understanding what can go awry ensures you’re attuned and ready to react – so here are the three main security concerns and how to prevent them from impacting your research.

  • Employee negligence– Increased accessibility may be one of the great benefits of cloud computing, but it can also be a major disadvantage. Your team may well expect to access data from anywhere, using almost any device as long as they have the correct login credentials. This means they can access the cloud platforms from mobile phones and personal laptops that don’t have the full and correct security protocol in place – leaving the system vulnerable. However, this can be combatted with thorough employee training and blocking non-essential IPs from accessing the cloud. Authentication measures can also be put in place to prevent employees from using non-secure devices or networks.
  • Data loss – An almost unthinkable event for many research teams – there are several ways data loss could occur, most pertinently from a cloud security threat known as ransomware. This piece of software locks files stored on the cloud and will only unlock them once a ransom has been paid – putting data owners in a sticky situation. This means it’s imperative that either your cloud provider or you as a business/organisation has a back-up in place. Always be sure to set up a secure secondary location to back up your most important files.
  • Other cloud users – Cloud platforms can simultaneously store information and data from a huge array of different clients. And whilst their efforts may be protecting this data from external attacks, there aren’t always so many internal protective measures in place. Other clients on the same cloud platform could be vulnerable to attacks, potentially leaving your data vulnerable too. When choosing a cloud service provider, be sure to check whether there are protective walls between different clients to ensure your data is not subject to another’s lapses.

AI in cloud computing

With the rapid rise in artificial intelligence capabilities, we’re seeing more and more how it can benefit businesses. The combination of AI and cloud computing enhances the cloud experience, making it much more flexible, strategic and insight-driven.

For research teams and labs, this means that cloud computing can take on more admin tasks, help create reports, and improve organisation. Although there can be some issues with the integration of the two technologies, AI cloud is predicted to become the default option for data and information storage within a very short period.

We hope this blog aids with your decision to switch to a cloud-first environment and answers any queries you may have.

InterFocus can help you build the laboratory that’s perfect for you and your team. For more information about our bespoke fitted labs, visit our homepage or call our team on 01223 894 833.

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