NIH STRIDES Initiative - July2020

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STRIDES Initiative: enabling collaboration through cloud IN ASSOCIATION WITH







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Thomas Shaw, Senior Project Manager, NIH STRIDES Initiative, discusses the transformative ability of cloud and how the project fosters collaboration


t was in July 2018 that the first National Institutes of Health (NIH) Science and Technology Research Infrastructure for

Discovery, Experimentation and Sustainability (STRIDES) Initiative was established. Partnering 04

with Google Cloud and then, two months later, with Amazon Web Services (AWS), STRIDES was conceived as a method for the NIH to fully engage with cloud computing and explore its potential for collaborative data sharing. Part of the NIH’s wider strategy for digital transformation (the Strategic Plan for Data Science), STRIDES has and will continue to play an integral role in making the organisation’s biomedical data easier to access, use and integrate, as well as deliver a more costeffective form of data management. Joining as a Senior Project Manager in October 2018, only one month after the AWS partnership, Thomas Shaw came from a highly experienced technical background: graduating in 1986 with a BSc in Computer Science from the University of North Dakota, Shaw gained experience with the


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“ When it comes to healthcare in the US, I’m always curious about how we can advance” — Thomas Shaw, Senior Project Manager, STRIDES Initiative

American Red Cross, the National Center for Biotechnology Information and even NASA. His career has been an intermingling of technology and healthcare, but this is no coincidence: Shaw claims that the challenges of the former and the inherent significance of the latter made it an ideal combination. “What’s most important to me is ‘what am I doing? What’s the project in mind?’” he explains. “When it comes to healthcare in the US, I’m always curious about how we can advance.”


Recognising the NIH as an organisation devoted to positive change and making a difference in people’s lives, Shaw became the first project manager brought onboard for the STRIDES Initiative and appreciated the team’s open workplace culture: “You can go to anybody and ask for help and people will, regardless of what the issue is,” he says. “At the same time, all of the cloud service providers we are working with display an identical attitude and commitment: It’s not ‘we can’t do this’, rather ‘how can we do this?’ and that’s a wonderful environment to be in.” This aspect has proven particularly crucial because of STRIDES’ sheer scope:

Next Generation Biomedical Research using AWS CLICK TO WATCH



09 integrating data from across 2,700

and a variety of reports. Regarding

NIH-funded Institutes and organisa-

the latter, these can take the form of

tions comprising research on topics

monthly spend reports, supplementary

ranging from tooth decay to vaccines),

information and account monitoring

the amount of information necessary to

which will send timely alerts to possible

carry out the project is truly immense.


Offering support services to assist

The fundamentals of the Initiative

in the utilisation of cloud resources, the

rest on three pillars: access, collabora-

STRIDES Initiative covers consulta-

tion and innovation. However, large

tion, structured coordination between

volumes of data require a simplified,

the STRIDES team and the recipient’s

integrated, easy-to-access platform

project or programme, a flexible pro-

in order to be readily accessible and

ject billing setup regardless of how the

cloud computing was the vital ingredi-

research is NIH-funded, cloud training

ent which pulled STRIDES together.

(both in-person and online resources)

According to Shaw, the move to cloud w w w.da t a sc i e nc e . n ih . g ov

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was “a big step forward” in the sense

without cloud, such a monumental

that it liberated the sharing of informa-

task might have been too expensive

tion whilst simultaneously maintaining

to execute. “There have been prior

granular control over it. Making the

attempts to do what we’re achieving

information accessible to research

with STRIDES, but, at that time, some

staff without the need to download

of the technology just wasn’t there for

it mitigated the need for substantial

it.” Now that communicating between

investment in servers to house the

teams is easier than ever before, a

NIH’s collective data, thus saving costs

digital, cloud-powered NIH community

significantly. Indeed, Shaw states that,

can explore each others’ work in new



Thomas Shaw Title: Senior Project Manager

Location: Burke, Virginia

Thomas Shaw is a Senior Project Manager on the NIH STRIDES Initiative. He received a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science from the University of North Dakota and a minor in Mathematics. Along with the over 20 years at NIH, he has been the Director of Test Engineering and Configuration Management at the American Red Cross and worked in many different industry sectors including Secure Communications, Industrial Automation and Medical Devices. He brings his wealth of knowledge from these different arenas to the forefront to foster highly functioning teams and is valued for his ability to think outside the box to apply concepts and ideas to solve complex problems in unconventional ways. By seeing the big picture while being able to focus on the details helps mitigate many risks by addressing them ahead of time. w w w.da t a sc i e nc e . n ih . g ov


and interesting ways. “We have an ecosystem where people with access are collaborating which will lead to innovation. I think it’s really going to excite people,” adds Shaw. STRIDES’ ability to remove or lower barriers to seamless collaboration and data sharing is what Shaw calls “the golden ticket” for working in cloud space. “At this time, incurring egress is the only way to move data from one CSP (cloud service provider) to another. Resolving the barriers of 12

CSP data-sharing will take research to the next level,” he says. Shaw even postulates that a future pandemic on the scale of COVID-19 could be dealt with more effectively within a mature STRIDES ecosystem. The ability to get quick access to cloud resources, NIH-funded datasets and the ability to work closely with fellow researchers would be highly advantageous in the fight against a new virus. “No longer will that vital research remain only in the domain of major universities or organisations,” he continues. “Instead the playing field will shift to a more level place for research: large funded institutes, researchers at

underserved organisations, post-docs, doctoral candidates and even retired researchers with inspired insights could contribute towards a solution.” Although there is no way to predict when a similar pandemic might occur again, one thing appears certain: the power of cloud as a binding agent for coordinating a response will form the basis of any effective plan. The liberating potential of digital transformation is exemplified by NIH’s decision to pursue the STRIDES Initiative, something Shaw claims was the result of upper management’s realisation that its legacy systems would no longer be functional in the modern digital era. Whilst 10 years ago the Initiative’s aims would have been difficult to execute, modern technology has accelerated capacity beyond imagining. “You would not have been able to move 20 petabytes of data up into the cloud in less than a year previously; it would have probably taken a couple of years at best,” he explains. Such dynamic leaps make the team’s open style of workplace culture even more valuable, as their expertise and receptiveness make them ideal for w w w.da t a sc i e nc e . n ih . g ov


guiding others through the change.

focus include data protection and

Taking the time and effort to organise

monitoring software for multi-cloud

training for NIH staff is something

data centres and providing STRIDES

Shaw takes pride in, particularly for

with an effective and simplified method

those who do not properly understand

for eliminating IT issues before they

the cloud. As such, he considers

become problematic. From infrastruc-

STRIDES to be merely the latest itera-

ture assessments, security reviews,

tion of a project which will continue to

access management, training and

improve over the years: “The goal is to

many other services, STRIDES needs

maintain STRIDES and allow it to con-

collaborators who are as intrepid and

tinue in one form or another.�

inspired to expand the frontiers of bio-

Navigating the future successfully

medical research as it is. Successful

will depend on partners as forward-

partners will be those companies that

thinking as NIH itself. Key areas of

are agile, free flowing and committed to

NIH STRIDES Cloud overview: Key Concepts CLICK TO WATCH



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The STRIDES Initiative’s first partnership was with Google Cloud in July 2018. Joe Corkery, MD, Director of Product, Healthcare and Life Sciences at Google Cloud, said, “We’re committed to working with the NIH to create the best environment possible for biomedical research to f lourish across the country and across the globe. Together, we’re eliminating barriers to accessing and making meaning from the most important datasets: the ones that have the potential to advance science and human health.” Andrea T. Norris, CIO at NIH, added: “By launching STRIDES, we clearly show our strong commitment to putting the most advanced cloud computing tools in the hands of scientists. Beyond our partnership with

Google Cloud, we will seek to add more industry partners to assure that NIH continues to be well poised to support the future of biomedical research.” Furthermore, “teaming with AWS will give NIH researchers powerful cloud-based resources to more efficiently collaborate and analyze data,” added Norris. “AWS’s long standing leadership in the cloud space will help bolster the innovative research being conducted through NIH support.” “We’re committed to providing those researchers participating in the STRIDES Initiative with access to high-value NIH datasets, enabling them to further their research to study, treat, and prevent the most devastating diseases,” said Teresa Carlson, VP at AWS.

“ The goal is to maintain STRIDES and allow it to continue in one form or another” — Thomas Shaw, Senior Project Manager, STRIDES Initiative

as interest has increased. I don’t see much changing as far as our cloud is concerned, apart from an increase in usage as more and more people use it.” Shaw intimates that the ‘new normal’, or the revised attitudes to work in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, could mean that STRIDES has come along at the perfect time. With remote working and a focus on the practical convenience of digital, organisations have awoken to the benefits of operating in a cloud-based system. Now that the collaborative ecosystem, of

the STRIDES Initiative’s mission, whilst

which STRIDES anticipated, is starting

also bringing cutting edge biomedi-

to become essential to the future of

cal information solutions to the cloud

research, Shaw adds that his team’s

space for NIH-funded research.

mission will be to optimise and make it

Looking ahead to the end of 2020

as affordable as possible. “I think, if we

and the short-term future of STRIDES,

develop a superior model, other univer-

Shaw is optimistic that over 100 NIH-

sities will pick up on the idea and buy

funded institutions will have signed

into the STRIDES programme. Then,

up and enrolled in the Initiative, citing

down the road at some point, maybe

a substantial uptick in the usage of

even corporations will do the same.”

cloud resources since the beginning of spring. The reason, he presumes, is the exponential growth of data being generated by facilities within the NIH ecosystem: “The amount of data has quadrupled in the past year w w w.da t a sc i e nc e . n ih . g ov