Academic institutions contain some of the world’s most important data generated from years of research. Still, centralized data storage models are becoming a concern for many universities looking to keep critical information secure and accessible.
Danny O’Brien, a senior fellow at the Filecoin Foundation and Filecoin Foundation for the Decentralized Web (FFDW) – an independent organization that facilitates management of the Filecoin network and funds development projects – told Cointelegraph that data stored by academic institutions is are at risk of disappearing due to centralized storage models. To put this in perspective, a recent survey by the Filecoin Foundation found that 71% of Americans have lost information and records due to challenges such as deleted hyperlinks or locked online accounts.
Decentralized storage helps secure and distribute data
To counter this, O’Brien explains that a handful of educational institutions have started using decentralized data storage models to preserve datasets. “A growing number of higher education institutions, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Harvard University, the University of California, Berkeley, Stanford University, the University of South Carolina and others, are all using Filecoin to store, maintain and archive their most important data on the blockchain,” he said.
For example, O’Brien pointed out that MIT is currently working on a three-year project with the FFDW to explore how decentralized technology can support its Open Learning programs. MIT’s Open Learning programs include “OpenCourseWare,” which is designed to provide free online materials from more than 2,500 MIT courses. This allows anyone around the world to access MIT courses on the Internet.
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O’Brien explained that with the support of the FFDW, MIT’s Open Learning programs will use decentralized storage to house cataloging, while preserving the OpenCourseWare materials. He added that MIT would soon host public seminars on the challenges and opportunities of the decentralized web. “Education’s continued adoption of decentralized Web3 data storage provides, through cryptographic evidence, a guarantee that data will remain available and unchanged over time, preserving their critical data for as long as they want,” he said.
The University of Utah also uses decentralized storage to protect and democratize access to large data sets. Valerio Pascucci, a professor of computer science at the university, told Cointelegraph that the institution’s Center for Extreme Data Management Analysis and Visualization recently adopted a solution from Seal Storage — a decentralized cloud storage platform powered by Filecoin — to complement its current centralized infrastructure.
Pascucci explained that Seal Storage’s model enables the National Science Data Fabric (NSDF) — a pilot program that partners with institutions to democratize data — to achieve its goal of creating new mechanisms for easy access to scientific information.
“Traditionally, Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs), small colleges and other disadvantaged organizations cannot be part of scientific research efforts because they don’t have access to the data needed to do the job,” he said. The NSDF’s use of decentralized storage will change that.
According to Pascucci, the NSDF-Seal Storage partnership has already demonstrated the ability to distribute massive data collections to different communities without deploying dedicated servers or other complex processing capabilities that may be impractical for many institutions.
“For example, NASA stores on its largest supercomputer, ‘Pleiades’, an open climate dataset that is more than 3 petabytes in size. But anyone who wants to use the data must have a dedicated account on Pleiades and must have the training necessary to process the data,” he explained. decentralized storage enables interactive processing and exploration, virtually without any local resources.”
Pascucci added that this may be the first time a dataset of this size has been available for interactive exploration directly from the cloud. He also believes that the decentralized approach has increased safety.
Decentralized storage is beneficial, but challenges remain
While several universities have begun adopting decentralized storage models, challenges remain that may hinder adoption.
For example, Pascucci pointed out that in order to distribute NASA’s open climate dataset, NSDF’s OpenVisus data format had to be expanded from traditional file systems to conform to Seal Storage’s storage model. Jacques Swanepoel, chief technology officer at Seal Storage, told Cointelegraph that mapping and tagging data on the blockchain is a very complicated endeavor.
“Identifying which block on the blockchain contains specific information is key to fully reaping the benefits of decentralized storage technology. To overcome these challenges, providers with creative software strategies must keep track of where customer data resides on the blockchain.”
Nevertheless, it remains striking that academic institutions use decentralized storage models. “Academia, often seen as slow, has proven to be an early adopter of blockchain-based technologies, including decentralized storage, and continues to be a leader in adopting and deploying these tools,” said O’Brien.
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This could very well be the case, as Pascucci shared that the University of Utah and NSDF are working to implement additional use cases with several universities.
“While the NASA use case is very prominent both in scope and application to the important area of global climate change, we are already working on other use cases, including the Cornell High Energy Synchrotron Source experimental facility. This is where thousands of scientists go each year to collect and share data with collaborators across the country,” he said.