New research tool will transport the biggest of big data

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A University of Alberta professor has today unveiled a Dropbox-like tool that makes it quick and easy for researchers to transfer files that were previously considered too numerous or big — in the terabyte size range and beyond — to be transmitted.

ActiveFolders is a high-speed data transfer tool designed to meet the security and access needs of scientists working on large datasets or computation files (particularly in high-performance computing centres operated by Compute Canada) that need to be transferred to another computer. Traditionally, users had to use a system of tools and techniques to move their large files, which required in-depth technical learning and know-how. Otherwise, they simply had to put up with long download times.

"The goal is to make people'€™s lives easier," says Paul Lu, Professor in the Department of Computing Science at the University of Alberta. "€œDropbox has really shown us how important it is to have something that is quick and easy to use. There are large file transfer tools that already exist, but they require a level of technical know-how that not all people working on R&D projects possess. We wanted to create a system for worry-free data sharing."€

The ActiveFolders software works in the background, and can be downloaded via CANARIE'€™s Research Software Service Registry, located at science.canarie.ca. The project was funded by CANARIE, as part of its Research Software program, with project management and development support from Cybera, Alberta'€™s not-for-profit technology accelerator. The tool builds on existing high-speed connection and file transfer technologies (such as Grid FTP) to create a more polished solution for credential management and moving data. It also includes an Application Programming Interface (API) to control how and through which networks these data are transferred.

One potential user of ActiveFolders says he would welcome a system for fast and secure data transfers. "Carleton University, in partnership with Solana Networks and CANARIE, is building a cloud-based platform, called the Research Platform for Smart Facilities Management, for enhancing collaboration among researchers," says Shikharesh Majumdar of the Department of Systems and Computer Engineering at Carleton. "€œUsing this platform, researchers who are interested in monitoring the health of critical infrastructure (such as sensor-based bridges and smart buildings) as well as those working with smart industrial machinery (including wind turbines and auxiliary power units in airplanes) will be able to access a variety of geographically dispersed resources, including sensor data repositories, software tools for data analysis, as well as computing and data storage devices.

"€œThese collaborations often require transferring large volumes of data from one institution to the next. We are investigating the possibility of using ActiveFolders to help with these transfers."

Canadian researchers who are interested in customizing the tool for their specific file transfer needs are encouraged to contact the ActiveFolders team to discuss their needs. Lu hopes to release a click-and-go version of the tool within the next year, with the goal of one day having a smart storage system that will allow for computations to be carried out in folders the moment a file is dragged into it.