Wednesday, June 8, 2011

LANL Data Mushrooms into Cloud

Cities of Gold Hotel and Casino, Pojoaque, NM/ June 7, 2011, 5:30 PM-7:30 PM:

The RACER environmental database team, and the New Mexico Community Foundation (NMCF), held a public meeting to describe the results of a recent audit of RACER data, and to introduce the planned use of cloud computing technology as an enhancement to the RACER database.

The audit was designed and conducted by the Risk Assessment Corporation (RAC), the original creator of RACER, under contract to  Department of Energy/National Nuclear Security Agency (DOE/NNSA). DOE/NNSA is currently the sole support of RACER and also funds ~10% of ongoing NMCF operations. A RAC employee presented the audit findings to an assembly of Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) and New Mexico Environment Department  (NMED) personnel, along with a few members of the general public. Altogether, approximately 30 people were in attendance. The purpose of RACER is ostensibly to make LANL and NMED environmental data accessible to the general public.

The audit uncovered numerous discrepancies contained in RACER data, when compared to data supplied by LANL to the auditors. Because of these discrepancies, the RAC presenter judged the current interface through which LANL has been supplying data to RACER to be a "failure".

However, in the next presentation a LANL staff member described reasons for these discrepancies, and the strategy which soon would be employed to correct them.

A second LANL staff member then elaborated on the planned use of cloud computing technology to enhance the RACER database.

During the course of this last presentation, and as a result of the question and answer session which followed, it became clear that the DOE intends to replace its LANL environmental database, now being held redundantly on servers at LANL and by RACER, with data residing only in the Cloud; i.e., on public access servers owned by the Locus Corporation, and provided under a new DOE/NNSA contract. For future users of this data, Locus will also supply display software surpassing in versatility what is now being offered by RACER.

That the DOE may wish to cut costs by contracting out the management of its environmental data seems unexceptional. Indeed, the ability of LANL staff to make use of its environmental data may well be facilitated by a more efficient data management scheme. Whether or not this new arrangement will facilitate or inhibit use of LANL environmental data by the general public is another question.

It appears to me that, at present, there are very few users of this data among the general public; viz., few or almost none, as judged by tallies reported by the RACER site-meter. Will the invocation of a more versatile data display tool encourage more use of LANL environmental data by the general public? Judging by my own experience with RACER, and with display software generally, I'm dubious of such a theory.

Unless, that is, one has in mind the use of environmental data as a new form of entertainment (perhaps a 3D environmental movie hosted by a sexy captain DOE-America?) ... and a distraction for the general public from its worries about the real nuclear weapons R&D going on at LANL, with all of its likely accompanying environmental contamination.

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