UCAR > Communications > Quarterly > Winter/Spring 1996 Search

UCAR's IITA effort

by Robert Henson, UCAR Communications

A wealth of data from UCAR is available on the Internet--if you know where to find it. Traditionally, NCAR divisions and UCAR programs have made data available in an independent fashion, each using its own archive and distribution systems. A new UCAR project funded by NSF promises to preserve that tradition of independence while providing researchers at UCAR and elsewhere with a more coherent view of data and data-related services--facilitating, for example, the locating, access, and use of data sets.

The three-year effort began late last year with support from NSF's initiative for Information Infrastructure Technology Applications (IITA). Coprincipal investigators are Unidata director David Fulker and two NCAR division directors, Bill Buzbee (Scientific Computing Division, or SCD) and David Carlson (Atmospheric Technology Division, or ATD). A team of five staff has been shifted half- or full-time from other UCAR projects to work on the IITA. Managing the effort is Richard Chinman, who recently completed four years as data services manager and director of the TOGA COARE (Tropical Ocean Global Atmosphere Coupled Ocean-Atmosphere Response Experiment) International Project Office.

Chinman's success at coordinating the processing, archiving, and distribution of large volumes of COARE data at dozens of sites worldwide made him a natural to manage the UCAR IITA. "Cliff Jacobs [of NSF] has, for a long time, had something like this in mind to help us systematically enhance the wide array of data and information services provided by virtually every division and program within UCAR," says Chinman. He notes that pulling together access to disparate data services is a very common concern in the research community and that UCAR IITA efforts will build on the progress already being made in this arena by, for example, SCD and UOP's Office of Field Project Support.

The data services provided by UCAR span a wide variety of activities: real- and post-time data acquisition, broadcast, archiving, documentation, and distribution. In addition, many groups provide software for data access, manipulation, translation to common formats, display, and analysis. Data, software, and information activities within the UCAR family are attuned to serving the needs of specific divisions or programs. However, in the increasingly cross-disciplinary world of research, scientists from beyond the usual constituents of a division or program often enter our information systems. These users stand to benefit from a coherent view of the entry points into archives, the relevance and location of individual datasets, and the nature of associated services and software capabilities.

The IITA effort has identified four elements useful in constructing a more coherent view of data, software, and information systems at UCAR:

Much of the groundwork for the proposal was done at two UCAR meetings. The first was an all-day forum in February 1995 in which representatives of various divisions and programs shared their missions, services, and goals for data access and services. Says Fulker, "I think all of us who attended came away with a better understanding of the range of activities at UCAR and NCAR." At a smaller workshop held the next month, key players from the earlier forum met to identify areas of commonality, differences, and potential synergism.

Those who participated in the meetings concluded that, by addressing its own data-service issues, UCAR could serve as a model for other institutions. As stated in the IITA proposal, "The issues to be faced in the UCAR organizational framework represent a microcosm of the larger world of scientific data management, in which numerous unresolved issues surround the tension that exists between having distributed data holdings and data services while offering users the means to find and use and integrate the data needed for specific studies." Fulker notes that the emphasis in IITA will be on cooperation rather than mandates or standards. "There's no intent to change the way people acquire data from any of the present UCAR services unless it makes sense to do so. We will not replace systems; rather, we will try to increase coherence among these systems while maintaining high levels of autonomy. There is a strong emphasis on decentralized responsibility. It's one of the most important aspects of the way that researchers and others expect to provide and gather data, as exemplified by the popularity of the Web."

Workshops to gather input from the UCAR community and to consider potential methodologies will take place in Boulder about every four months, beginning shortly. Though aimed largely at UCAR staff, they will be open to others, with a particular effort to involve the university community. IITA information is evolving on the Web and available at http://www.coare.ucar.edu/iita. For more information, contact Chinman (303-497-8696 or chinman@ucar.edu).

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Edited by Carol Rasmussen, carolr@ucar.edu
Prepared for the Web by Jacque Marshall
Last revised: Tue Apr 4 09:13:34 MDT 2000