Apps & CloudCategory 3 min read

EPFL: Cloud Control Powers Research Excellence

Giulia Alessio
Frank ‑ Fotolia

Modern research often depends on access to vast amounts of computing, storage and networking power. How that sensitive data is managed is critical. Using a multi-cloud platform from VMware, École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) has given itself the means to make smarter cloud choices — and strengthen data sovereignty.

With yearly progress determined in closely watched metrics and league tables, it should be of little surprise that the university business is very competitive. Every aspect of the university experience is measured, from students’ exam results and post-degree employment rates to the food in the campus’ restaurants.

For many universities, one of the most important figures is the amount of research funding it can attract. Funding is key to building world-class research infrastructure—which, today, largely involves high-powered computing and data storage. World-class facilities, in turn, attract world-class talent. It is research talent that discovers the next significant breakthrough, generating more attention for the university and the next round of funding.

EPFL is one of Europe’s most vibrant science and technology institutions. It is home to more than 500 laboratories and research groups, each exploring the limits of critical areas such as data science, personalized health, biomedical engineering, energy, robotics and advanced manufacturing.

Modern research places exacting standards on EPFL. Switzerland has some of the world’s strictest data privacy laws. There are different regulations at the regional, national and international levels, along with sector-specific data protection and security requirements for business.

For EPFL, data is both highly valuable and highly risky. It must allow research teams to share and explore data, but it must do so in a manner that is tightly controlled. Failure to meet local data laws risks criminal charges and reputational damage.

Public cloud-like experience with security, compliance and control

EPFL has built a private cloud to provide its research community with the computing, storage and networking it needs to do great work. The private cloud platform is built on VMware Cloud Foundation® while the self-service portal used by researchers to access IT resources relies on VMware Aria Automation.  VMware NSX® Distributed IDS/IPS helps protect sensitive research work while establishing the necessary management control.

In the words of Philippe Morel, director of IT operations and infrastructure, EPFL, “With VMware Aria Automation, we’re providing a public cloud-like user experience while maintaining security, compliance and control.”

This removes the temptation for researchers to find their own public cloud infrastructure. Morel explains, “We don’t have the authority to forbid researchers from using public cloud, but we’re now able to provide them with a faster, cheaper, more secure alternative. Our private cloud means we don’t stand in the way of research ingenuity.” The private cloud took three months to design, build and test. The take-up since launch has been exceptional. The number of virtual machines has increased from 2,000 in 2021 to nearly 4,000 by late 2022. EPFL laboratories collaborate with industries in over 200 research projects. Morel is part of a team of just 14 supporting 3,000 researchers (and their around-the-clock work).

Allowing smarter cloud choices

VMware Cloud Foundation opens the door to multi-cloud, handing EPFL the ability to move workloads into the most appropriate cloud. Some research work will remain highly sensitive and may need to remain in the private cloud, but other workloads could happily sit in public clouds.

EPFL uses VMware Cloud on AWS® for disaster recovery purposes. Given the rise in machine learning, data-heavy applications and the peaks in private cloud workloads toward the end of the term, Morel would like to “burst” to the public cloud to cover short-term demand. VMware multi-cloud solutions provide EPFL with a platform that can flex as Switzerland’s sovereign requirements change. 

“VMware understands the multi-cloud experience,” says Morel. “I need our multi-cloud environment to be simple to manage, ideally with workloads pushed automatically to the appropriate cloud. VMware has the tools to manage this.”

Read the full EPFL customer story here.