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March 17, 2020

Data Firms Offer Free Access for COVID-19 Research

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Where oh where in all that Big Data are the patterns and insights that might lead to a vaccine against the scourge of COVID-19?

A growing list of data analytics vendors are assisting medical detectives in their search with what amounts to the open source release of proprietary data analytics software.

Qumulo, the hybrid cloud file storage vendor based in coronavirus-ravaged Seattle, was among the first to release its cloud-native file software to public and private medical and healthcare researchers. The company said vaccine researchers could use its software available on public clouds for free through July.

Along with vaccine research, investigators could also use the software to track the virus’ spread and development containment measures as public health officials seek to “flatten the curve” for COVID-19 infections. The donation would give researchers access to petabytes of real-time data on the how the virus spreads and it infection mechanism.

“It will be through the work of these professionals globally, sharing and analyzing all available data in the cloud, that a cure for COVID-19 will be discovered,” said Matt McIlwain, chairman of the board of trustees of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and managing partner at Madrona Venture Group.

Faster access to large data sets is also seen as a way to divine how the virus is spreading and how the number of infections can be slowed. With that in mind, analytics vendor Starburst said Tuesday (March 17) it is making available for free to healthcare researchers its enterprise Presto software. Presto is the SQL query engine released by Facebook in 2012.

The Boston-based company said university and public health researchers tracking the spread of COVID-19 could use its software through the end of 2020. Use cases include access to and combining multiple data sets, including geo-location and travel history data. “Research organizations struggle to find the resources to acquire the right technology to join diverse data sets and provide fast access,” Starburst said.

The company said its donation addresses the “significant information gap” responsible in part for the rapid spread of the novel coronavirus. “We already help healthcare teams run fast SQL analysis across multiple data sets,” said Starburst CEO Justin Borgman.

Elsewhere, TigerGraph said this week it is providing free use of its graph database technology to government researchers, corporate users and non-profits. Access includes a free tier on the company’s cloud platform where data can be loaded and analyzed using graph algorithms.

Potential use cases include deploying community detection algorithms to identify clusters of virus infection and “shortest path” algorithms to understand the source and impact of the virus in specific areas.

TigerGraph said it would extend a free trial of its enterprise platform “as necessary” to support research on eliminating COVID-19.

Across the pond, Oxford University researchers are supporting several European efforts to develop a mobile app for coronavirus instant contact tracing. Widespread deployment could help stem the spread of the virus, the university said.

Those analytics and computing resources are welcome as the U.S. and European countries remain in virtual lockdown in response to the pandemic. Referring to pleas for “social distancing,” Dr. Asif Bitton of Brigham and Woman’s Hospital in Boston told the PBS NewsHour, “It’s really important that we all have a new social compact around coming together by staying apart.”

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