Oct 222012

One year in! Time flies when you are having fun, or trying to pin the tail on a donkey which at times is how it feels to be a JISCMRD project manager. This isn’t a complaint, it is a stimulating and worthwhile endeavour, and I think programme is working well at UH. The Research Data ToolKit, even before it is properly manifest, is acting as an agent of change, and gaining momentum as the RDM team expands from 1 person, to 3, now 6, soon to be 9.

Most of JISCMRD 2011-2013 convened at NCSL in Nottingham Wed 24-Thu 25 October.  I was taken by the increased confidence and authority of my fellow travellers, compared to the prevailing feeling a year ago. In some senses, the horizon is no closer, indeed it may have receded further in the light of the knowledge we have all acquired; the difference is, perhaps, that the benefit of experience gives us conviction. The RDM problem won’t be fixed by JISCMRD, but those of us involved will be well placed to carry the effort forward beyond the life of the programme.

The progress workshop was packed with interesting sessions, touching all parts of the life cycle of research data. The only disappointment  I had was that I couldn’t divide myself in three to attend parallel sessions.

In my first presentation A view over Cloud StorageI sought to explore the circumstances under which cloud storage can and can’t be utilised.  Part of the intent was to stimulate discussion, and in this it was successful, as I seemed to touch a nerve by naming the elephants in the room: Dropbox, Skydrive, Googledrive (D, S & G). The issues around using these  applications seemed to resonate throughout both days of the workshop. Before I become identified as an advocate for Dropbox I would like, in the manner of a minister redressing a half baked policy, to ‘clarify’. It is not a specific incarnation of any of these cloud storage App’s that I am advocating; it is their feature set.  Unless you work with more than a few gigabytes of data, the ease of use of these the public cloud services make them irresistable to researchers. The implications of the terms and conditions of use, which fall foul of pretty much any institutional policy that you could find, have little impact: usability wins over regulation. During the workshop MariekeGuy tweeted a list of alternatives applications, and we discussed some of these, but no one could wholeheartedly endorse any of the candidates for a robust, reliable service. D, S & G simply work better than our own networked storage offerings in many, many RDM scenarios. Like it or not, this is the case.

In the final workshop session, John Milner gave an account of the major cloud and data centre framework agreement already concluded  and the negotiations that the JANET Brokerage is planning to undertake  with Amazon, Microsoft, Google and Dropbox. An agreement with Microsoft on Office 365 has been reached and it is hoped that favourable terms with Amazon for, for example, EC2 and Glacier and Microsoft Azure can be achieved in co-operation with Internet2 in the USA. Talks with Dropbox and Google have recently been initiated. John indicated that a ‘negotiation’ typically takes at least three to six months to see through. It was encouraging that John indicated, that despite their strong market positions, these companies are willing to discuss HE needs and it is likely that education and research will attract favourable prices and terms and conditions of service, the latter of which (I suggest) is the higher hurdle to adoption. So perhaps JANET may yet resolve an answer to the search for an easy to use cloud storage application, that can be brought within the constraints of our governance, use our authentication and work with our infrastructure, they are certainly working on it and keen to hear requirements from the sector!

I am seeing an App’ like  D, S or G; sitting over hybrid storage; in our own datacentres or within the European Economic Area public cloud; accessed using our own passwords; and, governed by our own T and Cs.  Maybe for Christmas?   Unlikely, but worth the thought.

RDTK’s presentations are available below:

RDTK A view over Cloud Storage, in Parallel Session 1B: Managing Active Data: storage, access, academic ‘dropbox’ services, JISCMRD progress workshop, Nottingham, 2012 (PDF, 0.6 MB)

RDTK DataStage to DSpace, progress on a workflow for data deposit, in Parallel Session 2B: Data Repositories and Storage: options for repository service solutions, JISCMRD progress workshop, Nottingham, 2012 (PDF, 1.5 MB)

RDMTPA Research Data Management Training for Physics and Astronomy, in Parallel Session 3A: Training and Guidance, JISCMRD progress workshop, Nottingham, 2012  (PDF, 1.8 MB)

RDTK Poster, Service Oriented Toolkit for Research Data Management, in Poster Session, JISCMRD progress workshop, Nottingham, 2012, Poster (PDF, 1.9 MB)

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