Open Data

You can lead a horse to data . . .

  

If you build it, they will come. Unless what you build is a government dataset, in which case users might find it difficult to access or understand their data field of dreams.

Open NASA Earth Exchange, a data and supercomputing platform dubbed OpenNEX, has launched a series of virtual lectures and hands-on lab modules for how to use and access its data.

Tsengdar Lee, high-end computing portfolio manager for the Space Mission Directorate at NASA, told FCW the agency’s goal is to lower the point of entry for people trying to access data.

“Just because we opened up that dataset, doesn’t mean people can use that data set,” Lee said. “There is still a steep learning curve and what we’re trying to do is get out there and educate people and make it as easy as possible.”

Jamie Kinney, senior manager for scientific and high-performance computing, world-wide public sector at AWS, has worked closely with Lee, and said the program is “teaching the world how to access and work with the software and data sets.” It’s also a way for AWS to generate revenue and expand its worldwide scientific computing reach, he said. 

Developers can make money, too.

This week, NASA announced two challenges that will use data collected by Earth science satellites.

The first "ideation" stage of the challenge offers nearly $10,000 in awards for ideas on novel uses of the datasets. The second "builder" stage, beginning in August, will offer between $30,000 and $50,000 in awards for the development of an application or algorithm that promotes climate resilience using the OpenNEX data, based on ideas from the first stage of the challenge, according to a NASA release.

NASA will announce the overall challenge winners in December.

The Earth science satellite data was made available at the end of last year and has been used primarily by climate researchers. Lee and Kinney hope the challenge will push the data out to more people, who will put it to new uses.

The data had been hosted in NASA computing centers, with limited access. Even NASA employee with access to those facilities had to make a request and go through an approval process – limiting the data to a select few.

Lee learned about the AWS public data set program two years ago, after seeing the genome data sets that the National Institute of Health hosted through AWS.

Among the other agencies that have taken advantage of AWS hosting are the Agriculture Department, the Recovery, Accountability and Transparency Board and the Census Bureau.

About the Author

Colby Hochmuth is a staff writer covering big data, cloud computing and the federal workforce. Connect with her on Twitter: @ColbyAnn.

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