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COVID-19: Tech giants, government agencies add supercomputing to the fight

News Analysis
Mar 23, 20204 mins
Business ContinuityNetworking

The COVID-19 High Performance Computing Consortium, which includes IBM, AWS, Google, HPE and Microsoft as well as NASA, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and U.S. Department of Energy, will fight the pandemic.

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High-powered computer-industry players, government entities and universities are teaming up to further technology that can be used in the fight against the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

The COVID-19 High Performance Computing Consortium includes IBM, AWS, Google, HPE, and Microsoft as well as US National Labs, NASA, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, U.S. Department of Energy and others.

The idea is to meld the high-performance computing systems supported by consortium members to let researchers run massive amounts of epidemiology, bioinformatics, and molecular modeling calculations. These experiments would take years to complete if worked by hand, or months if handled on slower, traditional computing platforms, according to IBM.

By pooling their supercomputing capacity the consortium can offer extraordinary supercomputing power to scientists, medical researchers and government agencies as they respond to and mitigate the coronavirus spread, wrote Dario Gil, Director of IBM Research in a blog.

“As a powerful example of the potential, IBM’s Summit, the most powerful supercomputer on the planet, has already enabled researchers at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the University of Tennessee to screen 8,000 compounds to find those that are most likely to bind to the main ‘spike’ protein of the coronavirus, rendering it unable to infect host cells,” Gil wrote.  “They were able to recommend the 77 promising small-molecule drug compounds that could now be experimentally tested. This is the power of accelerating discovery through computation.”

Researchers will be able to submit COVID-19-related research proposals to the consortium via this online portal, which will then be reviewed for matching with computing resources from one of the partner institutions. An expert panel comprised of top scientists and computing researchers will work with proposers to assess the public health benefit of the work, with emphasis on projects that can ensure rapid results.

The tech world has responded to the novel coronavirus in other ways recently, for example:

  • Cisco said it would donate $225 million in cash and products to help support global and local response to COVID-19. In a blog announcing the plan, CEO Chuck Robbins wrote: “We are allocating $8 million in cash and $210 million in product to the global coronavirus response. We are focusing these resources on supporting healthcare and education, government response and critical technology. Part of this will go to the United Nations Foundation’s COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund, supporting the World Health Organization’s (WHO) worldwide efforts to help prevent, detect, and manage the spread of COVID-19.” Through Cisco’s Country Digital Acceleration (CDA) program, we are providing funding for heads of state, government agencies, and businesses to rapidly deploy COVID-19-related technology solutions. “We are also empowering those on the front lines with access to our critical technologies with our free Webex and Security offers,” Robbins stated.
  • The Allen Institute for AI, Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI), Georgetown University’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology (CSET), Microsoft, and the National Library of Medicine (NLM) at the National Institutes of Health released the COVID-19 Open Research Dataset (CORD-19) of scholarly literature about COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2, and the Coronavirus group. The dataset represents the most extensive machine-readable Coronavirus literature collection available for data and text mining to date, with over 29,000 articles, more than 13,000 of which have full text. The CORD-19 resource is available on the Allen Institute’s org website.
  • AWS said it launched Diagnostic Development Initiative—a program to support customers who are working to bring better, more accurate, diagnostics solutions to market faster and promote better collaboration across organizations that are working on similar problems. It sais it is committing an initial investment of $20 million to accelerate diagnostic research, innovation, and development to speed  understanding and detection of COVID-19 and other diagnostic solutions to mitigate future infectious disease outbreaks. The program includes 35 global research institutions, startups and businesses.
  • Palo Alto Networks, said it join forces with 24 other Bay Area companies – including Autodesk, Box, DocuSign, Cisco, Dropbox, GitHub, Intuit, LinkedIn, NetApp, Okta, Salesforce and SAP to commit an initial $22 million for organizations on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis. Funds will support the evolving local, regional and global response efforts through several beneficiaries.