DataNet presentations lead to invigorating discussion at ESA annual meeting

DataNet Tools and Services was the topic of a session at the recent Ecological Society of America Annual Meeting, held last month in Baltimore. Chris Lenhardt and Mike Conway presented in the session representing the UNC Chapel Hill-based DataNet Federation Consortium (DFC). Chris is lead of the DFC Facilities and Operations team and is active in RENCI’s environmental sciences group; Mike is a senior developer with DFC. Organized by Amber Budden of the DataONE DataNet project, the session used the IGNITE format: a series of 5-minute, 20-slide talks followed by Q & A. The fast-paced IGNITE talks present forward-looking, unconventional, and/or controversial ideas to spur the audience into questioning their usual assumptions and thinking creatively about the topic. Both of the DFC IGNITE talks challenged the audience to consider how a data management system can provide tools and services for scientists that go beyond simply storing, indexing discovering, and accessing data files.

Lenhardt, taking to heart another IGNITE goal of being entertaining, spoke on Workflows to accelerate preparing data for input to hydrologic models: Spaghetti, mis en place, and Julia Child—What do these things have in common and what do they have to do with hydrologic modeling? Lenhardt drew the serious part of his material from work done by the DFC Hydrology team, led by Jon Goodall of the University of Virginia, and from work by UNC Institute for the Environment researcher Brian Miles.

Conway’s topic was Federating Data to Accelerate Science, focusing on functionality to serve researchers’ data needs across the data lifecycle. He emphasized that data doesn’t sit idle: data-centric science is about data used as inputs to computations including simulations, models, and analyses. Looking forward, the DFC development team, including Conway, will work on techniques to bring computation tools to the data, thereby avoiding large, time consuming file transfers. To address cases in which big data sets must be moved, the DFC is collaborating with networking researchers at RENCI to incorporate access to software defined networks within the DFC ecosystem.

Lenhardt and Conway report that they spent a significant amount of time responding to audience inquiries about capabilities of the iRODS-powered DFC system that supports research data through its entire lifecycle. The team sees this interest in long-term data solutions as evidence of both a maturation of thinking about how to manage scientific data collections and a validation of the iRODS and DFC lifecycle approach to data management. The discussion also explored ways the various DataNet projects can work together and interoperate to support science.

For more on the DataNet Federation Consortium, visit the DFC website.

–Mary Whitton, Chris Lenhardt, and Mike Conway

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