Cloud Computing Testbed Chameleon Launches Third Phase with Focus on IoT and Reproducibility

$10 million NSF grant funds next four years of multi-institutional project

Since it launched in 2015, Chameleon has enabled systems and networking innovations by providing thousands of computer scientists with the bare metal access they need to conceptualize, assemble, and test new cloud computing approaches. 

Under a new four-year, $10 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the cloud computing testbed will further broaden its scope, adding new features for reproducibility, IoT and networking experimentation, and GPU computation to its core mission. This multi-institutional initiative is led by the University of Chicago (UChicago) in collaboration with the Renaissance Computing Institute (RENCI), Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC), and Northwestern University.

“Chameleon is a scientific instrument for computer science systems research,” said Kate Keahey, senior computer scientist at Argonne National Laboratory and the Consortium for Advanced Science and Engineering (CASE) of the University of Chicago, and principal investigator of the Chameleon project. “Astronomers have telescopes, biologists have microscopes, and computer scientists have Chameleon.”

In its first five years, Chameleon has attracted more than 4,000 users from over 100 institutions, working on more than 500 different research and education projects. Scientists have used the testbed to study power management, operating systems, virtualization, high performance computing, distributed computing, networking, security, machine learning, and more. Educators have used Chameleon for cloud computing courses, allowing college and high school students to build their own cloud and learn the inner workings of the technology. 

The upcoming phase of Chameleon will further develop work already begun such as the popular CHameleon Infrastructure (CHI) that provides enhanced capabilities with the open source OpenStack project

The team will also broaden connections to other mission-specific testbeds, which will allow experimenters to implement core contributions of testbeds beyond Chameleon into their work. For example, Chameleon will expand capabilities for connecting IoT technologies by integrating with testbeds such as SAGE.

RENCI’s contributions to Chameleon in the third phase of funding will support this cross-testbed capability by further enabling experimentation with advanced programmable networking devices and accelerators. The RENCI team will also develop new options for software-defined networking that will allow compatibility with FABRIC, a currently-developing “everywhere programmable” nationwide instrument with large amounts of compute and storage, interconnected by high speed, dedicated optical links. 

“The planned additions to Chameleon will allow academic researchers to experiment with advanced programmable networks in a large-scale cloud environment,” said Paul Ruth, assistant director of network research and infrastructure at RENCI and co-PI on the Chameleon project. “We are excited to extend Chameleon’s cloud experiments into RENCI’s FABRIC testbed, which will facilitate larger, more diverse networking experiments.” 

Finally, the Chameleon team will also add expanded tools for reproducible research, and they will add new hardware and storage resources at the project’s two primary sites, UChicago and TACC, as well as at a supplemental Northwestern University site.

“Chameleon is a great example of how shared infrastructure with over 4,000 users can save the academic community time and money while catalyzing new research results,” said Deepankar Medhi, program director in the Computer & Information Sciences & Engineering Directorate (CISE) at the National Science Foundation. “NSF is pleased to fund Chameleon for four more years in order to extend the platform with new capabilities, thus allowing researchers to conduct new lines of research and students to learn newer technologies.”

To learn more about the testbed or begin experimenting on it today, visit