Geography Department could not access files due to “possible data corruption” – The GW Hatchet


Updated: Oct 18, 2021 1:36 PM

Researchers in the Geography Department said they had been unable to access their research data for more than a month as officials worked to transition the Columbian College of Arts’ online file storage system and Sciences to an updated platform.

Officials said they had been working to move files from the old, obsolete system to the new storage platform since late last year, but found that two volumes of research data used by the department exhibited “possible data corruption”, blocking access until transfer. . Ministry officials said technical difficulties have delayed federally-funded research, to the detriment of taxpayer dollars and the limited efforts of graduate students to apply to graduate programs.

“We understand the importance of these files to our professors and the impact on their profession as well as the University and are genuinely exploring all of our options to restore as much as possible,” said Acting CTO Jared Johnson in an email.

Johnson said the CCAS file storage system, the CCAS cloud, was “at the end of its life” after eight years, and officials had been working since late last year to move the files to a new platform. ‘by December. He said professors reported they were unable to access the data in August, although the data was not corrupted and was not missing.

“We worked with the vendor to troubleshoot and perform system updates, but there was no performance improvement,” he said.

Johnson said IT staff worked in mid-September to migrate all data from faculties and departments to a “new storage solution,” except for 80 research volumes which were too large to migrate using the same procedure. Since then, Johnson has said IT staff “successfully migrated” 78 of 80 research volumes in early October to a new storage unit and restored full access to that data.

“We did not include these volumes in the larger migration because of this discovery,” he said. “The problems within these two volumes are probably the cause of the performance issues for the entire system.”

Johnson said the remaining two volumes exhibited “possible data corruption,” and IT staff met with faculty members who are relying on the two data volumes to understand how to prioritize their efforts to restore the data volumes. . He said 18 people have access to the remaining two volumes.

“We continue to provide updates and will work with them to identify any files missing due to corruption, or anything GWIT can do to regain access to any missing information,” he said.

IT requests have more than doubled in the first week of class this semester, and faculty have reported that slow response times to their requests are the result of “overworked” IT staff. Professors attributed the problems to officials switching to a shared service model for IT last summer when they consolidated GW’s technology services department to cut costs and mitigate the financial impact of the pandemic.

The Columbian College Cloud is currently housed in the university’s IT division in the Foggy Bottom data center.

“The main goal of the Cloud Project is to enable Colombian voters to work in the most productive way, while balancing end-user flexibility with cost, security and support,” according to the website. of the University.

Nikolay Shiklomanov, professor of geography and international affairs, said he had not been able to access his research data and syllabuses stored on his Colombian cloud research drive since the end of August.

“On our side, everything collapsed, from the end of August,” he said.

Shiklomanov said the incident forced professors and graduate students in the department to question the security and reliability of the cloud, given that the drive has been unreachable in recent weeks.

“The main question is: what will happen in the future? ” he said. “Because can we trust the system or can’t we trust the system?” “

Shiklomanov said his Arctic research is funded by a federal grant from the National Science Foundation, and delays in his work may have come at the expense of taxpayer dollars.

“It’s hard to assess the financial impact, but it scared us a little bit, you know,” he said.

Michael Mann, assistant professor of geography, said professors in the geography department had been made aware of possible data corruption, which he said “should be impossible” given that the University stores the data in two different places , Foggy Bottom, and Virginia Science and Technology Campus data centers.

Mann said Thursday evening that IT staff had restored some of their files, but because the files were randomly lost, some faculty and students were disproportionately affected by the inaccessible data. He added that the technical difficulties of this semester have cost the geography department “weeks, even months” of time.

“Personally, I have lost faith in our cloud infrastructure and plan to migrate my data to a more secure platform,” Mann said. “I hope the other professors are at least aware of the risks they face and plan to keep their own backups for their most important work.”

Sonia Clemens, a second-year student in the geography department, said she had had to put her research into thawing permafrost damage in countries near the Arctic Circle on hold for more than a month since the start of the semester. . She said she had to “redo” a whole new database since she could not access the data she had spent the spring semester compiling for her thesis on the geography of Antarctica.

“The job that I spent six months doing, I then had to do in two weeks,” she said.

Clemens said officials emailed her on October 4 saying they fixed the inaccessible cloud and that she could access her data to continue her dissertation research more than a month into the semester. . She said it was the first time officials had contacted her about her inaccessible data since the start of the semester.

Clemens said the inaccessible data delayed her preparation for an upcoming geography conference in October, where she would present some of her research. She said applicants for the doctoral program should share “publications and presentations” of their master’s work.

“It was a little scary, feeling that maybe I hadn’t done an adequate job, due to restrictions related to technical issues, to continue to a doctoral program,” she said. “It was probably the most frustrating part of the genre, how could that impact my future just based on a simple technical glitch?” “

This post has been updated to correct the following:
La Hachette wrongly pointed out that Shiklomanov is an associate professor. He is a full professor. We regret this error.


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