An elephant in the data privacy jungle

January 29th, 2015
Around 20 institutions of higher education in North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) will experience a milestone event on February 2, when the non-commercial campus cloud service sciebo (SKI boh) goes online. The largest cloud service of its kind in Germany, sciebo lets students and researchers save and share large amounts of data securely in the cloud. Participating universities can exercise full control over how they implement sciebo; only data processing is handled externally, at three universities in NRW: Münster (home of sciebo project development), Bonn and Duisburg-Essen. Because data is processed in the state of NRW, sciebo must comply with German privacy protection laws – some of the most stringent in the world.

"Most commercial cloud services keep their data on servers abroad. That usually comes with lax data protection requirements and confusing, unintelligible terms of use", stresses Dr Raimund Vogl, Director of the Centre for Information Processing at the University of Münster. "This automatically rules out the majority of these services for use with sensitive data." Raimund Vogl is consortium leader at sciebo and responsible for launching and operating the new cloud service, which was developed under the project name "Sync & Share NRW".

The name "sciebo" was inspired by the Latin scire, meaning "to know" or "to understand". At the same time, sciebo can also be read as an abbreviation of "science box", which describes its inherent function as a cloud service for students and researchers. The sciebo logo – a green elephant – represents the positive attributes of an elephant, which a good cloud service should also strive to emulate: a dependable memory (data storage), the ability to shoulder a heavy load (data capacity) and its social character as a herd animal (works well with a large user base).

Sciebo has a number of helpful features for users, for example automatic data synchronisation with devices like PCs or smart phones, or sharing and editing controls for documents, allowing multiple users to work collaboratively from separate locations. Each sciebo user is entitled to 30 gigabytes of free storage, which can be expanded as needed, for example in the case of a large research projects. Sciebo's total storage volume amounts to five petabytes, or roughly enough storage for one million full-length DVDs.

The cloud service is available exclusively for members of participating universities. A few universities are choosing to implement sciebo in steps, first offering it only to employees or students. The project is supported financially by grants from the government of North Rhine-Westphalia, totalling to date €2.8 million.

Provided by Hochschule Rhein-Waal

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