Reimagining Research Computing and IT

A Columbia University Irving Medical Center task force appointed last fall to review and evaluate current research computing and data storage infrastructure and prepare for future needs has identified ways to strengthen research information technology and computing (RITC) that will provide greater support for researchers.

The task force developed these overarching recommendations:

  • reorganize leadership and governance around RITC support services
  • engage in short- and long-term strategic planning about high-performance computing and storage needs
  • invest in existing IT resources
  • develop a financial model that includes investment in infrastructure to support integrated RITC operations

Data storage and high-performance computing

Starting in October 2022, 10 groups of faculty, staff, and external advisers held moderated discussion sessions to focus on governance, infrastructure/financial propositions, research services, and strategic considerations, including opportunities to partner with Columbia University and NewYork-Presbyterian to address the complexities of large-scale data storage and high-performance computing.

The task force, informed by the discussion sessions, identified these challenges:

  • inadequate IT infrastructure and research services that affect networking conditions within and between campuses and externally
  • financial, networking, security, access, and reliability challenges for researchers using available on-premises and cloud computing services, challenges compounded by aging IT infrastructure and lack of adequate coordination between operational units
  • research that increasingly involves larger and more complex data requires access to reliable high-capacity computing power and data storage systems
  • lack of faculty-level leadership and governance or a singular strategic plan for RITC
  • conflicting messages and lack of coordination about options, services, and pricing regarding on-premises high-performance computing and off-premises cloud services
  • uneven RITC support

Task force member George Hripcsak, MD, the Vivian Beaumont Allen Professor of Biomedical Informatics in VP&S, has agreed to assist the CUIMC administration in its research IT activities. He will guide strategic direction and investment in CUIMC IT by collaborating with CU and CUIMC chief information officers and chief medical information officers.

Three primary recommendations grew out of the task force:

  • Create a faculty advisory committee on RITC, appoint a director of RITC for CUIMC, and integrate CUIMC and school-level RITC leadership.
  • Reorganize and invest in CUIMC, school, and departmental RITC resources to support the research mission, including an upgrade in the network to support collaboration, data sharing, computing, and cloud storage; develop a phased plan to grow and sustain a centrally managed and supported hybrid high-performance computing environment; increase transparency, services, and capacity for RITC resources; and create a phased plan to provide and coordinate additional services.
  • Develop a sustainable financial model and invest in infrastructure to support CUIMC-wide RITC operations, including a five-year operating budget for high-performance computing that takes into account cost-recovery from individual PIs, central funding, CUIMC IT and facilities support and integrates RITC into the annual budget and the capital budget process to upgrade infrastructure.

Staged implementation

Based on the recommendations, CUIMC research leadership will start a staged implementation this year, with one-year, three-year, and five-year goals in collaboration with individual CUIMC schools, Columbia University, and NYP. The review of services will continue, starting with a VP&S survey on RITC. CUIMC faculty leadership will evaluate needs and make strategic decisions about investments and partnerships with CU, NYP, industry, and other academic partners to support the research vision and mission.

Muredach P. Reilly, MBBCh, vice dean for clinical and translational research at VP&S, chaired the task force. “Out of the task force deliberations came a vision for research information technology and computing at CUIMC that will provide a single service-oriented ‘front door’ for central support of research HPC and IT,” says Reilly. “To address the common challenges that threaten CUIMC’s research capacity and competitiveness, we will work to facilitate equitable and streamlined access to high-performance computing, data resources, storage and management, and support services throughout the research lifecycle. To be a leader in biomedical research and research computing, CUIMC must develop and implement a research strategic vision and partner with CU, NYP, and regional or national consortia to seize opportunities to strengthen our research competitiveness.”

Hripcsak says, “I am excited to see the institution focus on research IT, improving and maintaining our infrastructure while emphasizing key areas like high-performance computing and shared clinical data. We look forward to expanding our mutually beneficial IT partnerships within CU and with NYP.”


In addition to Reilly and Hripcsak, members of the task force were Liz Swift DiMaria, assistant director for interdisciplinary initiatives and operations, Irving Institute for Clinical and Translational Research; Aristidis Floratos, PhD, assistant professor of biomedical informatics (in systems biology) and executive research director, Center for Computational Biology and Bioinformatics; Gary Miller, PhD, professor of environmental health sciences and vice dean for research strategy and innovation at the Mailman School of Public Health; William McKoy, senior vice president and chief financial officer, CUIMC; Michael L. Shelanski, MD, PhD, the Henry Taub Professor of Pathology & Cell Biology and senior vice dean for research at VP&S; and Jennifer Williamson, associate vice dean for research at VP&S.