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Using Google cloud computing

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I recently started using cloud computing services.

Amazon seems to be the preferred provider of cloud services and they do rightly so: their breath of services and their customization is currently unparalleled. Although I had experimented with some Amazon Web Services (AWS) before (e.g. S3 storage), I had never used it for computing.

Unfortunately, Amazon has quite restrictive limits for new users (while you can't get out of the Free Tier):

  • limit of two usage zones (this wouldn't be a problem, weren't it for:)
  • all possible zones to choose from are in the US
  • really weak VMs available

I contacted service to change my zones and have my permissions raised and start real work, willing to pay the costs, but the issue took 3 days to be responded with basically "though luck" as reply and this seems like a general pattern.

So I figured other providers might give better conditions to starting users due to their smaller market share. So it was with Google Cloud Compute.


  • credit of 300$ to spend over 60 days - very attractive;
  • unrestricted choice of zones;
  • more choice of VMs for starting users;
  • simpler interface (also less features);
  • competitive prices per hour and Gb storage compared with AWS.

Computing and storage aren't as separated as in AWS. The computing service is called Google Cloud Engine - similar to AWS' EC2. Long-term storage is called Google Storage and is equivalent to AWS' S3. Disks can be mounted on instances in a way equivalent to AWS' EBS storage.

Following is a series of notes on how to interface with GCE and GCS, written mostly for the future me.


Mounting new disks in instances:

df -h  # see mounted volumes
sudo mkdir /projects
sudo chown user:user /projects
sudo /usr/share/google/safe_format_and_mount -m "mkfs.ext4 -F" /dev/sdb /projects

Set to mount at startup - add:

/dev/sdaX /media/mydata ext4 defaults 0 0

to /etc/fstab


You can give an external IP to your instances and transfer files easily.

You can use Filezilla by adding your instance key (Edit -> Preferences -> SFTP -> Add key...) and using sftp://<user>@<externalIP>.


Pretty much similar to AWS EC2: create a new instance, install all your software and save an image of the instance. Next time start a new instance with this image and voilá all your software is there.

Unfortunately, I haven't found a way of sharing images 😞.


  • gcloud : manage services, instances, configurations, permissions
  • gsutil : manage cloud storage (upload, download to and from local)

Uploading to gcs

Upload in parallel to Google cloud storage:

pip install crcmod
# configure ~/.boto
# uncomment parallel_process_count line
# or use this:
# with Rsync
gsutil -m rsync -r . gs://storage/data/
# selectively using grep
ls /localdir/data/mapped | grep .dups.bam | \  # grep samples
grep -v _string_ | \  # exclude some samples based on some string
gsutil -m cp -I gs://storagedir/data/mapped/  # upload

Change permissions

e.g. upload bigwig tracks and hub, make them publicly accessible

gsutil -m rsync data/bigWig gs://storage/bigWig/
gsutil cp trackHub_hg19.txt gs://storage/bigWig/
gsutil -m acl ch -g All:R gs://storage/bigWig/*

Auto-resumable uploads, pretty fast.

Uploaded ~250 bam files (1-5 Gb each) overnight!