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How does Terra work?

In a nutshell, Terra provides you a consolidated, shareable space for data storage, analysis workflows, and analysis outputs. When you submit a workflow job or use interactive coding tools (Jupyter notebooks, Rstudio), Terra does the heavy-lifting of managing the computational resources for your analysis.

The underlying cloud computing services are provided by the Google Cloud Platform (GCP) - primarily the Compute Engine and Storage Bucket services. For an introduction to the GCP, see our tutorial on setting up a GCP virtual machine.

Why use Terra?

Terra may be the cloud platform for you if:

  • You do not have (long-term) access to a high performance computer (HPC)
  • You have HPC access, but you want to avoid long queues to start/complete jobs
  • You have large datasets that need to be processed in the same way and you want scale up with cloud services
  • You want to use cloud services that provide an interactive web-based user interface
  • You want to use or customize existing analysis workflows on the Terra platform
  • You need a secure place to share and track versions of data/workflows with collaborators. Terra was designed to meet the security standards required for using and storing human data for biomedical research.
  • You want to use data that is only available from a Terra workspace (e.g., Gene-Tissue Expression (GTEx) project controlled-access data)
  • You want to share your datasets or workflows with the research community on Terra

Finding help on Terra

The support center and youtube channel of short tutorial videos provide helpful documentation for all users looking to get started with Terra’s basic functions. Importantly, both are actively updated, so users can be sure they are getting the most up-to-date information. Once you've set up an account, you can also post questions to the community help forum or directly to Terra by submitting a request. There is a service notification page for scheduled maintenance or service interruptions/errors related to the Terra platform.

Last update: April 23, 2021