IntroStatGen R Studio Servers using Google Cloud


Owen Melia


June 16, 2020

IntroStatGen R Studio Servers

For the one-day seminar, we had a hands-on lab where we decided we needed to set up R Studio Servers. The servers needed pre-loaded data, access to a terminal, pre-compiled binaries for torus and fastenloc, and the correct python/R/Linux environments to run all of our analyses. Here’s a guide about how we set up that server.

Using Google Cloud Compute Engine

To set everything up, we had a basic workflow: 1. Create a new VM. 1. Configure the VM as an RStudio server with everything installed, downloaded, etc. 1. Take a snapshot of this VM. 1. Spin up a bunch of new VMs from this snapshot.

Most of the time (and therefore most of this document) was spent on step 2. Installing, compiling, configuring, uploading, and permissions-ing was the long part. Anyway, you won’t have to do all of that if you want to use the most current snapshot. It’s called rstudio-final-2020-06-12.

To spin up multiple VMs, we used Google’s command line tools. Most commands in the Google Cloud Console can be replicated in the command line, and just before creating a VM or Snapshot in the Console, you can find a link which gives you the analogous command. Here is what we used to spin up an array:

$ cat
gcloud compute --project "introstatgen" disks create "qgt-${1}" \
    --size "50" --zone "us-central1-a" \
    --source-snapshot "rstudio-final-2020-06-12" --type "pd-standard"

gcloud beta compute --project=introstatgen instances create qgt-${1} \
    --zone=us-central1-a --machine-type=custom-1-6656 --subnet=default \
    --network-tier=PREMIUM --maintenance-policy=MIGRATE \ \
    --scopes=,,,,, \
     --tags=http-server --disk=name=qgt-${1},device-name=qgt-${1},mode=rw,boot=yes,auto-delete=yes --reservation-affinity=any
$ for i in {0..35} ; do bash $i ; done

Which made 36 different servers, each with RStudio available on port 8787. To get a sense of the size of the servers, they were initiated with 50GB of disk space, 6.5 GB of RAM, and 1 processor. When we used Google Cloud’s smallest VM (which only had ~3GB RAM) there was a memory error when running S-MultiXcan.

R Studio Server

This tutorial link was pretty helpful. One thing which took some figuring out was that the command listed under the Install R on your VM heading. The command listed downloaded a version of R incompatible with the Ubuntu version running on the VM. But this link had useful information as well as a directory of the R/Ubuntu versions for download.

The download and installation process for R Studio Server was documented very well on their website. R Studio ran automatically after the download, so I didn’t even need a startup script for the VM clones. It just runs automatically, I guess.

Add a Student User

Students were asked to access the RStudio server using the account student with a given password. This corresponds to a user account on the VM, which can be created using the command sudo adduser student. Then, a password is specified, and these credentials can be used to log into the RStudio server.

NOTE because this user does not have sudo privileges, everything in the user’s home directory /home/student/ needs to be readable and writeable (preferrably owned) by student. This can be done with a combination of sudo chown student ... and sudo -iu student; the latter logs in as the student user.

Add Python Environment

We used Anaconda. The installation was performed when logged in as the student user. Doing it as my own user and then changing permissions was a nightmare. The installer script can be downloaded using something like curl -O Check here for the latest version.

A conda environment was defined using a yaml environment file link

Add fastenloc and torus

Fastenloc and torus can be compiled pretty easily on Ubuntu. One may need to install a few libraries using apt. Make sure to compile static versions, because these binaries should end up in a folder at /home/student/bin/, and the student user may not have the necessary permissions to find linked libraries.

After compiling static versions, move them to /home/student/bin/; make sure to change owner to student and make them executable by student. It is also good to automatically add /home/student/bin to the PATH variable, which can be achieved by modifying the file at /home/student/.bashrc.

Add Data

We used Box (this repo here) to gather and store data for this version of the class, and I didn’t find a good way to add/update data from Box to the VM. I ended up downloading from Box to my machine, and then scp-ing it to the VM. This means that each time the data in Box changed, I had to re-upload or manually update the data on the VM. Not pretty. I hope (hope) there is some way to download from Box out there, and a custom download script could be added to the VM creation script, so that a fresh version of the Box repository is added with each new VM.

The data should end up in /home/student/ and should be owned, readable, and writeable by the student.

Add Lab Documents

Log in as the student, and clone the lab documents link again into the student’s home directory.

Make the Server Image Publicly Available

In addition to the snapshot, there is a publicly available image named intro-stat-gen-rstudio-server-2020-06-16. It was made publicly available by this command (suggested by this page )

gcloud compute images add-iam-policy-binding intro-stat-gen-rstudio-server-2020-06-16 \
    --member='allAuthenticatedUsers' \