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  1. Health Informatics at FDA


FDA launched the Chillax project to provide options to the high cost of expanding and maintaining FDA’s high performance computing environment (HPC) needed for big data analysis. The HPC provides a massive computational cluster (3168 processing cores in 356 nodes) for scientists in all FDA product centers to use in their research and regulatory work.

The Chillax project leverages the elastic computing power of a cloud environment to perform complex data retrieval, storage, and analysis such as that required for genomics.  It also enables researchers to use both open source and custom tools in an environment where resources are offered on demand. 

FDA completed a successful pilot by conducting a complex analysis of foodborne pathogen genomes, using the Department of Health and Human Services Cloud Computing environment.  Chillax showed that performing work on all of the publicly available Salmonella isolates (25,765) collected by the GenomeTrackr network could be completed successfully in the cloud in about an eighth of the time and for very modest cost compared to similar work done locally in an HPC environment. 

The Chillax prototype was developed to test High Performance Computing (HPC) in the cloud as it relates to foodborne illness analyses.  FDA successfully tested it ,leveraging the HHS sandbox cloud computing environment and completed this test on September 1, 2015.  Internal HPC resources continue to be used for analysis of whole genome sequencing data from foodborne bacteria.  Additionally, information is shared publicly through the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI). 

The Chillax prototype is complete and illustrated the usefulness of HPC in the cloud.  It also allowed FDA to recognize the benefit of going directly to a cloud provider vs. through a third party.  Additional funds are not available for a production Chillax environment.  This is an example of how FDA routinely evaluates new technologies.  Not all of these technologies make it into a production IT environment.  However, these small prototypes (such as Chillax) inform the broader production solution.