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Connecting researchers with the cloud

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Cathy Miller reports on discussions about research data in the cloud at the University of Adelaide

Talk to research staff and students about research data management and before long you will hear, ‘I share my data in the cloud… is that ok?’.

Conducting research today means sharing data and files with collaborators offsite, at other institutions, and on the other side of the world. A range of third-party hosted storage solutions, commonly referred to as ‘the cloud’, are available for storing, transferring and archiving research data. Researchers in Australia are rightly aware of the need to balance the ease of using the cloud with sound data management practices to meet their responsibilities outlined in the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research.

At a forum held in August at the University of Adelaide, South Australia, research staff and students looked at opportunities and issues associated with sharing and publishing research data in the cloud. Through a series of lightning talks, attendees heard about the security risks of some commercial cloud-computing providers, as well as national cloud storage and services for research data that are facilitated locally by eResearch South Australia.

Senior information security specialist, Patrick Dunstan, from the University’s technology services unit, highlighted the need to review terms of service from commercial cloud providers, urging researchers to question, ‘do these guys have your best interests in mind?’.

Attendees also heard about federally-funded Australian-based cloud services for research data, which offer an alternative solution to commercial providers. Paul Coddington, deputy director of eResearch SA (eRSA), spoke about the availability of storage for research data collections of national significance. He noted that the storage is intended to ‘enable sharing and reuse of data from publicly-funded research’.

The storage, funded by Australia’s Research Data Storage Infrastructure (RDSI) project, and managed by eResearch SA in South Australia will ultimately make approximately 10,000 terabytes of storage available to South Australian researchers through a merit allocation process.

The storage provides a mechanism for researchers to make data available for use by other researchers. Coddington remarked on the importance of metadata when sharing data in the cloud to enable discovery and reuse of research data collections. He noted that this is in keeping with DataConnect, the University’s system for contributing metadata about research data collections to the national data registry, Research Data Australia. He explained that that eRSA 'have just appointed two staff to provide hands on support with data ingest and metadata description' to aid researchers in making use of the cloud storage facility.

Coddington also spoke about the national research cloud infrastructure and tools that are funded through the National eResearch Collaboration Tools and Resources (NeCTAR) project and will be hosted locally by eResearch SA. This infrastructure provides cloud-based computer services that are already being utilised by researchers at the University of Adelaide.

Martin Pullan from the Terrestrial Ecosystem Research Network (TERN) based in the University’s School of Earth and Environmental Sciences is one of the first in South Australia to use the national research cloud infrastructure, in conjunction with commercial cloud solutions. Pullan outlined his experience with hosting eco-informatics data in the cloud and his project’s experiences with different service providers. Pullan provided first-hand insight into the benefits of using the cloud, acknowledging that ‘as a project, we have a finite lifespan; we are not in a position to purchase and maintain our own infrastructure’. He said that the flexibility and scalability offered through cloud solutions are effective for TERN’s Australian Ecological Knowledge and Observations System (AEKOS) web application.

These lightning talks provided bite-sized overviews of different aspects of cloud computing. Such discussions involving a range of parties should help researchers in Australia and elsewhere to make informed choices about managing their data in the cloud.

Cathy Miller is research data librarian at the University of Adelaide, Australia