LIDA launched a cutting-edge platform called LASER (the Leeds Analytic Secure Environment for Research) in April 2021 (https://forstaff.leeds.ac.uk/news/article/7468/powering-data-analytics-research-education-and-training). LASER is a Microsoft cloud-based platform that meets the highest standards of data security while providing increased capacity and flexibility to meet the diverse data analytics needs of researchers and students at the University. The project is the most complex IT project that the University has undertaken to date, a true collaboration between IT, LIDA and external suppliers underpinned by a £1.5 million strategic investment by the University.
The first component of LASER provides each data analytics research project with Windows virtual machines (VMs), chosen as required from a range of specifications. Currently those VMs range from a basic specification (4 CPU/16GB RAM) to 64 CPU/256GB and GPU-based specifications that far exceed the computational capacity that was offered by LIDA’s previous Integrated Research Campus (IRC) platform.
LASER provides researchers with a much wider selection of software than was possible with the IRC, is currently being used for more than 50 research projects (twice as many as the IRC could accommodate) and, being cloud-based, LASER’s capacity is effectively unlimited.
The three other components of LASER are still under development. One is the provision of Linux VMs as well as the current Windows VMs. Linux is the dominant operating system in computer science and maths and, therefore, a core requirement for LASER if it is to support all types of data science research in the University. The LASER Dashboard will allow researchers to monitor their usage/costs of computational resources, and also place LIDA in a position to develop a predictive model of lifetime costs of conducting academic research projects in the cloud. Finally, the LASER Data Import/Export App will save hundreds of hours of time for LIDA’s Data Analytics Team, while simultaneously removing time delays for researchers.
In addition to its advanced technical capability, LASER operates within a high secure and specialised research environment. LASER is the University’s only ISO27001-accredited IT platform, and also holds NHS Data Security & Protection Toolkit (DSPT) accreditation. It is managed by LIDA’s dedicated team of data analysts (the Data Analytics Team (DAT)) and information governance, a group of specialists in data management, analysis, software engineering and data security who collaborate with LIDA researchers across all stages of their projects.
If you have any questions about LASER or how the DAT can support your research please contact DAT@leeds.ac.uk.