Big data and big science have “teamed” together for decades, residing in the cloistered halls of academia and research institutions. But as demand for big data accessibility and analytics soars, academic institutions, research consortiums, and cloud services providers are partnering to bring big science and big data access and capabilities to big business and even to individual users with the need to know.

The partnership is known as Helix Nebula, a European consortium with an aim is to democratize a big data “science cloud” that can be used outside of academia and research.

“Public and business access is a central premise behind the Helix Nebula initiative,” said Robert Jenkins, CEO of CloudSigma, one of several cloud services providers that are part of the partnership. “We began by asking ourselves, if big data is good for big science, why not expand it to big business?”

Jenkins cites the example of a healthcare institution that wants to conduct MRIs at multiple facilities, but lacks the budget to provide all of the required equipment at every facility. “In these cases, storage and access to the information without investing in all of the additional on-premise equipment is the challenge,” said Jenkins. “We can solve this challenge by storing the data in the cloud and enabling secure access to it.”

Jenkins also talks about individuals in the general public who have a need to access and store big data for analytical purposes but lack the personal storage resources to keep petabytes of big data on their own. “Members of the public have been paying taxes for big science data all along — so they should have access to it,” said Jenkins. “With the use of the cloud in the Helix Nebula initiative, these users don’t have to pay any hosting fees. They pay only for what they access and use.”

For business and individual users, a plethora of big data information now becomes readily available, because they can use cloud storage of these petabytes of data without having to fund their own storage, which in many cases would be cost-prohibitive.

Jenkins says that it is the elimination of major storage and processing costs that Helix Nebula is able to “democratize” big data that was formerly only the province of publicly funded big science. Eliminating the substantial storage and processing costs of big data is achieved by injecting cloud-based technology with its “shared” computing resources. The cloud-based resources that have been federated in Helix Nebula from multiple cloud services providers encompass virtually every computing platform, which gives users a choice of what virtual resources they want to spin up in the cloud for big data uses.

The end result is a reinvented definition of IaaS — which under the Helix Nebula moniker more closely resembles “information as a service” — with “infrastructure as a service” serving as an enablement for the information.

As big data from multiple sources gets federated on the Helix Nebula cloud structure, financial institutions track and analyze trading exchange information in real time and from a variety of geographical locations on the cloud without a need to invest in major big data processing hardware and software at their worldwide offices.

In healthcare, institutions can use Helix Nebula to collect and analyze data on patient populations — performing predictive data modeling and analytics that may one day predict the onset of Alzheimer’s in individuals three or four years before the condition outwardly manifests itself. This information can help healthcare institutions position themselves for future care requirements, and enable them in many cases to take preventive treatment steps.

“These are examples of how we want to leverage the big data and cloud computing we have known so long in big science to big business and to public users,” said Jenkins.

Helix Nebula’s democratization goals are in early stages, with partnering and governance practices of participating cloud providers still evolving, but one thing is certain: lowering the cost of big data access and utilization by leveraging the benefits of cloud computing will unlock the advanced analytics and access to big science to others that otherwise would not have the resources to pursue it.