Wahakura - traditional Maori woven basket

Securely transferring health study data across the country

“The project team were originally going to courier hard drives across the country”

The Kahungunu Infant Safe Sleep (KISS) Study team used the NeSI Data Fabric to securely transfer data from the Eastern Institute of Technology in Napier to the University of Otago’s Dunedin School of Medicine. Previously, hard disk drives were physically sent around the country.

Ngati Kahungunu is the nation’s largest iwi by area. It spans large parts of the North Island’s east coast and is primarily rural.

KISS is a randomised controlled trial of the use of the traditional Māori wahakura, or flax woven baskets, versus portable bassinet for the sleep of infants at risk of Sudden Unexpected Death in Infancy (SUDI). The researchers will look at baby sleeping patterns, mother-baby contact time, breastfeeding at night, mother-bonding, blankets covering face during sleep and the warmth of the sleeping space.

“The project team were originally going to courier hard drives across the country”, explains Dr Russell Butson from the University of Otago, “but there are security implications for that. Also, if one of the drives became damaged or lost, then we are likely to lose all of the video from that session.” The nature of the data is that the interviews can never be recovered if lost.

About the NeSI Data Fabric

The NeSI Data Fabric is a flexible data storage service. It allows researchers to upload files and then grant others with access to that data. Files are able to be downloaded via a web browser, or other interfaces such as WebDAV.

Files are encrypted and stored at multiple locations. Data is peered between nodes utilising the REANNZ network. This technology enables highly secure, robust method for transferring large files at very rapid speeds across the data.

Technical challenges result in national improvements

The study generated roughly 5TB of data over 18 months. This included ~250 transfers of video files, each of which were roughly 20GB.

The project’s own needs have been met and the experience has led to several improvements, within NeSI, which benefit all researchers.

KISS uncovered a number of weaknesses with firewall configurations and shed light on various networking bottlenecks. To identify and fix these bottlenecks involved cooperation between NeSI collaborating institutions, REANNZ and the KISS researchers themselves. These bottlenecks have subsequently been removed, meaning faster speeds for all researchers.

Working in a collaborative manner to fix problems for researchers has also led to improvements in other, non-technical aspects of NeSI. “NeSI is now able to be more responsive to support queries”  says Kieron Mottley from NeSI. “The KISS project has been a rewarding process for us in general. We’ve been able to improve both our user support processes and end-to-end service delivery with other infrastructure providers in New Zealand.”

Research Practice is Sticky

Dr Butson, who is based at the university’s Higher Education Development Centre, emphasises the non-technical elements when it comes to adoption: “Researchers will not change practice just because it is more efficient and effective. Training and professional development shouldn’t be underestimated. With that in mind, he believes that the NeSI Data Fabric is “the best way to transfer data”.

Dr Butson continues, “The project team don’t care about the technical details. Staff just want to upload their data to the cloud and have it available for everyone else. We happen to be shifting terabytes of high definition video footage across the country.”

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