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EU-backed bid to build data preservation cloud for European research community gathers pace

The Archiver project, which aims to create a hybrid cloud-based data preservation environment for scientific researchers across Europe, has named the ICT suppliers in the running to deliver on its vision

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A European Union (EU)-backed push to provide scientific researchers from across the continent with access to a hybrid cloud-based data archival and preservation environment is continuing apace.

The Archiving and Preservation for Research Environments project, known as Archiver, is being overseen by a consortium of multinational scientific research groups, including the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN) and the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL), among others.

The group is seeking to procure a cloud-based, end-to-end archival and preservation system that can protect the data generated by researchers from across Europe throughout its entire lifecycle by combining the technologies of multiple providers in both the cloud and data management space.

According to the group, the commercial-grade digital preservation tools that currently exist on the market are ill-suited to this job as they are unable to scale to handle the petabyte workloads generated by most research institutions.

At the same time, such organisations create their own domain-specific data types that these tools struggle to process, resulting in many institutions having to create their own in-house services.

“Archiver will combine multiple ICT technologies, including extreme data scaling, network connectivity, service interoperability and business models, in a hybrid cloud environment to deliver end-to-end archival and preservation services that cover the full research lifecycle,” the group said in its mission statement.

“By acting as a collective of procurers, the consortium will create an ecosystem for specialist ICT companies active in archiving, which would like to introduce new services capable of supporting the expanding needs of research communities, but are currently prevented from doing so because there is no common procurement activity for the advanced stewardship of publicly funded data in Europe.”

A tender for the project, which receives funding via the EU Horizon 2020 programme, emerged 18 months ago, and states the project has a research and development budget of €3.4m.

The first phase of the procurement would involve selecting providers to join a framework agreement that would commit them to participating in three development phases, covering the design, prototyping and delivery of a pilot system.

“After each development phase, there will be an intermediate evaluation by the buyers group to select the best competing solution for the subsequent phase, also on a best value for money basis,” the tender states.

During a virtual kick-off event earlier in June, the group confirmed the names of the suppliers selected to participate in the design phase of the project, which included UK-based Arkivum, which has offered to provide the project with a long-term data management system hosted in the Google Cloud Platform.

According to the company, its technology tie-up with Google should ensure it has the scale required to meet the project’s sizeable data requirements.

Matthew Addis, chief technology officer (CTO) and co-founder of Arkivum, described the company’s selection as a “huge honour” that will confer on the company a new level of “global recognition” for what it does.

“Our technology is well-proven in the stewardship of large volumes of complex data in a multiplicity of formats, but now, thanks to our partnership with Google Cloud, we are ready to deal with the demands of research data archiving on an unprecedented scale, and to ensure that data is findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable (FAIR) for decades to come,” said Addis.

“Not only will we be handling complex research data that underpins hugely important international scientific endeavours, but we will also be working with a wealth of important historical and cultural multimedia material that CERN holds in its digital memory archives,” he added.

The other organisations in contestation for the project have formed similar technology alliances to the one Arkivum and Google have forged, with firms with digital preservation skills and expertise joining forces with public cloud providers to help deliver what the Archiver project is after.

They include Spanish systems integrator GMV, which has teamed up with Amazon Web Services (AWS) to design its offering, while another entry comes from a collaboration forged between the University of Barcelona, digital preservation platform provider Libnova and The Spanish National Research Council.

The remaining two entries at this stage have been put forward by local ICT providers in Belgium and Germany, respectively, where T-Systems features among the collaborators.

Read more about European cloud initiatives

  • The European Commission (EC) wants to create a €6.7bn cloud environment for use by the continent’s science and technology community, as the organisation’s Digital Single Market plans gather pace.
  • BT has secured two contracts worth €24m to provide public and private cloud services to government bodies and agencies across Europe.

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