Leveraging Open Data with a National Open Computing Strategy

Policy Brief by Lara Mangravite and John Wilbanks: “Open data mandates and investments in public data resources, such as the Human Genome Project or the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Data Discovery Portal, have provided essential data sets at a scale not possible without government support. By responsibly sharing data for wide reuse, federal policy can spur innovation inside the academy and in citizen science communities. These approaches are enabled by private-sector advances in cloud computing services and the government has benefited from innovation in this domain. However, the use of commercial products to manage the storage of and access to public data resources poses several challenges.

First, too many cloud computing systems fail to properly secure data against breaches, improperly share copies of data with other vendors, or use data to add to their own secretive and proprietary models. As a result, the public does not trust technology companies to responsibly manage public data—particularly private data of individual citizens. These fears are exacerbated by the market power of the major cloud computing providers, which may limit the ability of individuals or institutions to negotiate appropriate terms. This impacts the willingness of U.S. citizens to have their personal information included within these databases.

Second, open data solutions are springing up across multiple sectors without coordination. The federal government is funding a series of independent programs that are working to solve the same problem, leading to a costly duplication of effort across programs.

Third and most importantly, the high costs of data storage, transfer, and analysis preclude many academics, scientists, and researchers from taking advantage of governmental open data resources. Cloud computing has radically lowered the costs of high-performance computing, but it is still not free. The cost of building the wrong model at the wrong time can quickly run into tens of thousands of dollars.

Scarce resources mean that many academic data scientists are unable or unwilling to spend their limited funds to reuse data in exploratory analyses outside their narrow projects. And citizen scientists must use personal funds, which are especially scarce in communities traditionally underrepresented in research. The vast majority of public data made available through existing open science policy is therefore left unused, either as reference material or as “foreground” for new hypotheses and discoveries….The Solution: Public Cloud Computing…(More)”.