Universities use blockchain-based storage to protect and democratize data

Academic institutions are custodians of some of the world’s most valuable data, the result of years of research. However, many universities are now wary of centralized data storage models due to the need for secure and accessible management of vital information.

Danny O’Brien, a senior fellow at the Filecoin Foundation and the Filecoin Foundation for the Decentralized Web (FFDW) – an independent entity that facilitates the governance of the Filecoin network and finances development projects – informed Cointelegraph that data stored by academic institutions is in danger of disappearing due to centralized storage models. To better understand this, a recent survey conducted by the Filecoin Foundation uncovered that 71% of Americans have lost data and records due to issues such as deleted hyperlinks or locked online accounts.

Decentralized storage helps secure and distribute data

In order to address this issue, O’Brien stated that a few educational organizations have initiated utilizing decentralized data storage systems to safeguard data sets. “A steadily increasing number of educational institutions, including MIT, Harvard, UC Berkeley, Stanford, the University of South Carolina, and more, are all relying on Filecoin to store, protect, and archive their most critical data on the blockchain,” he remarked.

O’Brien highlighted that MIT is engaged in a three-year collaboration with the FFDW to examine how decentralized technology can bolster its Open Learning offerings. Among these offerings is “OpenCourseWare,” which offers free online materials from over 2,500 MIT courses, thus enabling people all over the world to access MIT courses via the web.

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O’Brien elucidated that, with the assistance of the FFDW, MIT’s Open Learning programs will utilize decentralized storage to store cataloging, while safeguarding its OpenCourseWare materials. He further stated that MIT would soon be giving public lectures concerning the difficulties and prospects of the decentralized web. “Education’s continuous adoption of decentralized Web3 data storage provides, through cryptographic verification, a guarantee that data remains accessible and unaltered over time, preserving their vital data for as long as they wish,” he remarked.

The University of Utah is utilizing decentralized storage to safeguard and democratize access to massive data sets. Valerio Pascucci, a professor of computer science at the university, informed Cointelegraph that the Center for Extreme Data Management Analysis and Visualization recently adopted a solution from Seal Storage – a decentralized cloud storage platform powered by Filecoin – to go with its existing centralized infrastructure.

Pascucci stated that the model presented by Seal Storage can assist the National Science Data Fabric (NSDF) — a pilot program collaborating with organizations to make data accessible — in its mission to construct novel approaches for convenient access to scientific knowledge.

“Historically, Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs), small colleges and other disadvantaged organizations have not been able to participate in scientific research projects due to their lack of access to the data needed to do the work,” he stated. However, this will be altered by the NSDF’s use of decentralized storage.

Pascucci has already shown that it is possible to spread large amounts of data to multiple groups without having to install special servers or other intricate processing systems that may be difficult for numerous organizations to utilize.

He went on to explain that NASA has stored its expansive open climate data set, which is over 3 petabytes in size, on its largest supercomputer, ‘Pleiades’. However, in order to access and process this data, one would need to have a special account on Pleiades and the necessary training. NSDF, however, has adopted an ‘OpenVisus’ approach that reorganizes the data so that it can be distributed through decentralized storage, enabling interactive processing and exploration with almost no local resources.

Pascucci noted that this could be the first instance of a dataset this large being accessible for interactive exploration straight from the cloud. Additionally, he thinks the decentralized approach has improved security.

Decentralized storage is beneficial, but challenges remain

Although some universities have started taking advantage of decentralized storage systems, there are still potential obstacles to full adoption.

Pascucci highlighted that NSDF’s OpenVisus data format had to be adapted from traditional file systems to work with the storage model provided by Seal Storage in order to distribute NASA’s open climate data set. Jacques Swanepoel, the CTO at Seal Storage, informed Cointelegraph that mapping and tagging data onto the blockchain is an intricate process.

Despite its reputation for being slow to adapt, academic institutions have embraced decentralized storage models. According to O’Brien, “Academia has been an early adopter of blockchain-based technologies, such as decentralized storage, and continues to be a major proponent of these tools.”

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It is possible that this is true, as Pascucci mentioned that The University of Utah and NSDF are collaborating to develop more applications with other universities.

He noted that while the NASA use case is highly prominent due to its magnitude and its contribution to the significant domain of climate change, they are already working on other use cases, such as the Cornell High Energy Synchrotron Source research facility. This is where thousands of researchers travel annually to accumulate data and share it with colleagues across the country.

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