ELNs and Data Portability

I recall back in the late 90’s a lot of discussion at CENSA meetings about the need to move data between different systems, and of course from one ELN to another. From the customer’s perspective it is a really important issue although sadly one that doesn’t get enough attention until they are committed to a vendor – and of course it isn’t in the Vendor’s interest to allow you to take your data somewhere else… to a competing product for example. We even sponsored the development of CENSML (Collaborative Electronic Notebook Systems Markup Language) which was meant with complete apathy and interestingly no one else proposed anything similar.

So at this time the data portability situation in the ELN world is pretty awful. Which is a shame, and at some point people are going to start noticing – and perhaps the next round of ELN purchases will have open file formats as a purchasing consideration.

I came across the Data Portability project in this article on Tech Crunch which seems to be a really nice way of at least making the Data Portability issues obvious to consumers. They are starting off in the online web app area but clearly it is very relevant to any IT system, either cloud-based or on premises.

For the record, Amphora’s systems are completely open – our view is that it is your data and you should be able to take it where you want, when you want, without even having to involve us.

In addition, our focus on IP means we need to be able to reassure our customers that they can take a record out of our ELN and defend their IP long after their relationship with Amphora has come to a close – with a 50 or 100 year retention timescale, requiring the vendor to be around just isn’t acceptable (which is a big concern with services that claim to outsource IP protection, something I’ll blog on in due course).

We take this a step further in our Hosted/SaaS offerings, where customers can take a copy of their data (via rsync or similar) onto another server controlled by them every night. We also work with those customers to make sure they can spin up their own server as needed. This means that even where we’re Hosting them, they can tell us our services aren’t required and still have complete access to their data without any cooperation for us.

We believe that open data, neutral file formats, powerful APIs and above all a respectful policy to our customer’s IP are the cornerstone of any ELN vendor’s offering.

Our next web site refresh will contain our Data Portability policy. In the meantime I can only hope that as various advocacy groups get more vocal about the need for Facebook, Twitter and others to unlock your data, that will cause Data Portability to be given the consideration it deserves in the ELN world.