Designing a Large Scale Cooperative Sync+Share Cloud Storage Plattform for the Academic Community in NRW by Dr. Raimund Vogl
ABSTRACT: Cloud storage services allowing to synchronize file folders on multiple devices and to exchange data between users for collaboration are gaining substantial public recognition lately, due to the proliferation of mobile and personal devices like smartphones and tablets. Utilization of such services, either free or paid, like Dropbox, GoogleDrive, or Microsoft SkyDrive, in the academic community is not uncommon, even for storing sensible data from research and teaching. This creates substantial data privacy and confidentiality issues, even putting the individual user at legal risk. Guidelines for usage considerations for public cloud services, as have been imposed by several universities in Germany, try to create awareness among scholars, and in some cases, data security officers even officially ban use of public cloud storage services. With most of the IT departments at universities not being able to readily provide on premise alternatives compliant with data security policies, such bans certainly are not likely to succeed.
A representative survey amongst academic users on cloud storage services conducted at the University of Münster in 2012 and 2013 show very strong demand amongst both researchers and students for an on premise service alternative provided by university IT, and high awareness for data security issues connected with public cloud services hosted in non-EU countries. It turned out that 96% of the participants already use cloud services such as Dropbox, Google Drive or iCloud. However, only half of the students store private data while almost 90% synchronize, share and backup study-related files. According to the participants, sharing of folders with other students, high usability, and a local desktop client are the most required functionalities. Furthermore, students stated that they would prefer to use a service which is provided by a reliable public institution (e.g. university) which is subject to the German law on data protection.
With this background, the community of the IT managers for the 14 research universities in Germany’s most populous state of Northrhine-Westfalia (NRW) has brought underway a project to set up a cooperatively operated cloud storage platform for researchers and also for students – Sync&Share NRW. With the consortium of research and applied sciences universities headed by the University of Münster currently being formed and a funding proposal to be filed shortly, a system for possibly up to 500.000 users is being designed by a joined task force of IT staff members from several universities drawing on input from companies with suitable product offerings either in closed or open source.
To ensure adequate storage quotas for both individual use and for project group collaboration, storage space of 6 Petabyte is envisioned to be needed. To keep resource consumption for data center real estate and network bandwidth at an acceptable level, a distributed deployment of the storage system at 3 major universities is considered, underlining the cooperative character of this endeavor. Since end user administration and support has to be kept at a minimum in a service of this scope, self enrolement with user authentication and autorization based on a federated identity management founded on the the Shibboleth authentication and authorization infrastructure provided by the German Research Network (DFN-AAI), is considered. Current activities by DFN to create legal templates for cooperative cloud services within the German academic community provide collateral support for the organizational framework of the Sync&Share NRW consortium. Accompanying user acceptance and service adaption studies conducted by the Communication and Collaboration Systems working group at Münster University’s European Research Center for Information Systems are to provide valuable input for the crucial sync&share software features and the optimum timeline for a phased hardware delivery, to avoid resource bottlenecks and ensure user satisfaction when Sync&Share NRW is to go live in the targeted timeframe of early 2014.
SPEAKER: Dr. Raimund Vogl studied Physics at the University of Innsbruck, Austria, and received his doctoral degree in 1995. After that he became deputy head of IT at the Innsbruck University Hospital, Managing Director at icoserve Information Technologies GmbH, Innsbruck, and later on Lecturer in medical informatics at UMIT - University of Health and Life Sciences, Hall (Austria). From 2005 to 2007 Dr. Vogl was Managing Director of HITT - Health Information Technology Tirol GmbH. Since 2007 Dr. Vogl is the director of IT at the University of Muenster.