On the ICPSR Menu: A Quick Analysis with a Side of Data Served from DuraCloud
Submitted by on Wed, 2010-12-08 16:27
Ithaca, NY Sometimes you need more intellectual clout than Google can deliver if you want to win an argument. For example, maybe you think you heard on the radio or read somewhere that more people are working from home than ever before. Your friend says over lunch that she believes this is just not true. In response you fire-up your smart phone and set about getting the facts. Where do you go online to find reliable employment statistics over time?
The Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR),  an international consortium of about 700 academic institutions and research organizations which house the largest archive of social science data (500,000+ files) in the world, is the right place. With the gravitas of nearly 50 years of leadership and training in data access, curation, and methods of analysis, ICPSR continues to paint an evolving picture of social trends and ideas across the Unites States and the world by making demographic and social and geographical data available.
Typical ICPSR online users would include people like researchers and graduate students in social sciences, sociology, political science or criminal justice to name just a few discipline areas where social science data is essential. They might search using ICPSR's faceted search, find data sets with documentation, and add them to a shopping cart. Less research-oriented users like government employees or media representatives might perform quick background investigations by looking at comparative data in tables.
But it's not just the numbers. ICPSR has normalized, scrubbed and added value to raw data sets at their web site by adding metadata, documentation, and tools that make "seeing the numbers" easier and more satisfying. So you, along with government agencies, institutions, universities and others, can win arguments and influence people.
No matter how individuals or organizations decide to use the data, Bryan Beecher, Director, Computing and Network Services, ICPSR, and DuraCloud Pilot Program, Partner, is looking to make sure that all 6 terabytes of enhanced and raw ICPSR data are available to them far into the future. He has a three-pronged approach for finding places to "park" copies of ICPSR data that include making informal agreements with institutions around the country to "trade" data, along the lines of, "I'll take yours if you take mine." He also purchases commodity storage from commercial cloud providers. The third strategy points to why participating in the DuraCloud Pilot Program appealed to him. He is investigating the utility and ease of working with services like DuraCloud to determine whether he can get to his ideal "magical future world" that would allow him to "push a button to replicate content across six cloud providers." Beecher says, "Porting our delivery platform to DuraCloud is unlikely because we have so much invested in our current technology, but I would much rather engage with a vendor like DuraCloud than a series of agreements with individual cloud operators to ensure long-term duplicate storage options."
DuraCloud Pilot Program Observations
He emphasizes ICPSR priorities and how they relate to the DuraCloud service, "In the context of DuraCloud, our primary concern is preservation, so access service add-ons are not as important to us as basic fixity and the ability to replicate on demand."
He likes DuraCloud's interactive web-based administration system even though experimental DuraCloud services are not yet production-ready. He feels that a batch-oriented approach to services would be particularly helpful for ICPSR.
The digital preservation promise behind the DuraCloud service lies in its ability to easily insure that significant, historic data collections like ICPSR, that include data, analyses and value-added information, will be protected and preserved. This achievement allows all of us to imagine a future in which we can understand social trends based on a digital scholarly record of past experiences that holds within it the promise of finding new solutions and approaches to social policies and issues.