Advances in Research and Computing Services at KENET

The pool of researchers in Kenya is increasing both in digit and diversity. Although the largest research output in the country between 2016- 2017 was in the field of medicine, research in other fields is on the rise such as econometrics, bioinformatics, computational biology/chemistry, engineering, physics and data science. Big Data (extreme large data sets) calls for more computing power for data analysis and storage. High Performance Computing (HPC) allows more processing than a typical computer/laptop to solve large problems in science, engineering, or business, and taking this into account, KENET has made available research and computing services for free.

Dr. Ciira Maina, a Lecturer in Electrical Engineering at Dedan Kimathi University of Science and Technology has been involved in a project that uses bioacoustics techniques to monitor birds and by extension the state of the ecosystem. Using audio recordings from the natural environment, the recordings are used to monitoring bird population which in turn can enable ecosystem monitoring, like climate change. The recordings obtained are then used to determine the number of bird species present in the area and make predictive assessments on the ecology. The data generated in this research was voluminous and required significant amounts of storage and processing.

 “How can you get that (data) into some form they can consume and actually make intelligent decisions?” Dr Maina posed the question in a recent interview with Talking Machines while describing the power of data in his project.

However, before this data can be processed a major issue that needs to be highly considered is security. Dr. Maina notes that the major data-related concerns he encountered during his project was security, access and retrieval- as he found it difficult to retrieve data corresponding to a survey he was carrying out.

“Before publication the data resides on my hard drive and in backup disk drives in uncompressed WAV format. For publication, I compress the audio to mp3 format and deposit the data on a repository,” he explains. “It would be great to know that my data is secure, and I can easily retrieve them for analysis. Also, I would not need to deposit the data in other repositories outside the country for publication.”

Currently, Dr. Maina’s research has been published in three different repositories, all based out of the Country but is considering in utilizing KENET repository to store his data and retrieve other data. With many Kenyan researchers accessing High Performance Computing resources abroad due to minimal research infrastructures, KENET fills this gap. KENET has made available some research computing and storage services at no cost to a researcher that will enable them to self-serve according to their research needs. HPC services are usually costly and the providence of this service for free is in bid to facilitate and enhance and increase research output. Funding researchers is also a key area which KENET explores, especially through travel grants.

“With funding from KENET we were able to perform preliminary experiments at the Dedan Kimathi University of Technology using Raspberry Pis to collect the audio and develop machine learning methods to monitor bird species. This led to a grant from the African Bird Club to trial our methods in the Mt Kenya National Park,” says Dr. Maina.

Cloud-Based Research Computing Services  

Just like Dr. Maina, many researchers work with a lot of qualitative and/or quantitative data sets which require a platform whereby they can be stored, processed or analyzed. The KENET cloud computing platform provides pre-configured virtual appliances loaded with different scientific software stacks (e.g R statistical analysis, Quantum Espresso, NumPy/Scikit etc). Users can then self-provision the virtual machines by specifying the amount of CPU, RAM and Disk Space desired to run the appliance. In the case of the Bioacoustics research, the cloud-based research platform service would have been used to store the data from recordings and build clusters. KENET has already setup virtual appliances loaded for a PhD student in Medicine at University of Nairobi. Another virtual appliance loaded with Quatum Expresso has also been setup for use by PhD Physics students at Kenyatta University.

Open Research Data Repository at KENET

More and more research funders are requiring their grant-holders to make their data Open Access. The Open Access Data Repository (OADR) is a Digital Asset Management System (DAMS) that efficiently manages digital assets like spreadsheets, photographs, audio files, video files, representations of artwork, diagrams, satellite images and charts among others. The repository allows researchers like Dr. Maina to store research data for a period of up to 12 months. This platform addresses the challenge of research accessibility and benchmarking as it enables researchers to share their ideas and research findings. In addition, researchers who need a safer and accommodative platform to store their research data for periods of up to one year.  The KENET OADR provides up to 10TB of storage, federated access through the KENET IDP and is available through the KENET high speed broadband network.