Celebrating the MetaArchive Technical Team

December 12, 2023

MetaArchive is a distributed digital preservation system, relying on members to host caches, volunteer time and energy to committee work, and exchange knowledge within and outside of the Community. However, a common pain point felt by many digital preservationists is a lack of technical support dedicated to preservation infrastructure long-term. MetaArchive provides a low-barrier entry to digital preservation because we have robust technical support through our contracted staff members Bill Robbins, Kurt Nordstrom, and Chris Helms, and through LOCKSS Support Engineer Clay Miller.

MetaArchive has been lucky to have had dedicated staff members who have supported our infrastructure since 2008, and as our infrastructure shifts to LOCKSS and we transition our technical support to the LOCKSS Program team, we wanted to take the opportunity to celebrate and thank our Technical Team for their work. Their contributions have been substantial and essential to MetaArchive functionality and we cannot express our gratitude enough.

The Technical Team members have been integral to how MetaArchive functions, ensured smooth transitions, and provided quick IT support.  Some of their essential activities included cache management, Conspectus management, research and development support, Amazon Web Service (AWS) management, and bridging support between MetaArchive and LOCKSS.

Cache Management: Our members host the caches that create our distributed digital preservation network. The Technical Team leads the ongoing maintenance of caches and provides technical support to local IT teams and members. They oversee cache replacements and manage cache recovery during rare, but inevitable, cache failures and are key to getting the network performing optimally. The Technical Team is central to all cache management and we heavily rely on them on the operational side of the cache server and LOCKSS maintenance.

Conspectus: Conspectus is the MetaArchive’s web-based collection management tool and the first point of entry for ingest into the network. The Conspectus maintains the metadata and preservation status information of preserved (or to be preserved) collections of member institutions and offers an easy to use interface, so that members can create, update, and maintain their collections and the collection descriptions of their archives.  All members depend on  the Conspectus, and the Technical Team ensures that it is up and running and manages all debugging and technical support for it .

Supporting Research & Development: The MetaArchive community has been engaged in ongoing research and development to improve services for our members, many of which are supported. Recent projects include the SuperNode Pilot Project and evaluating our current LOCKSS infrastructure.

AWS Integration: MetaArchive integrated AWS EC2 Cloud storage in 2010 as a backup system in a cloud environment to serve as a single location for the cache manager, title database, and central plugin repository. Since then, as more members transition to using AWS S3 and EC2 for their organization’s storage solution, the Technical Team has facilitated the integration of more AWS-accessible features.

LOCKSS Support: As a Private LOCKSS Network, MetaArchive works collaboratively with LOCKSS technical support to maintain smooth integrations and cache support for MetaArchive members.

We also want to take the opportunity to highlight the individual work of the Technical Team to acknowledge the depth and importance of their expertise.

Bill Robbins has been at MetaArchive since 2008, working closely with Educopia leadership. His role began as a Systems Administrator for MetaArchive and has taken on additional areas of support as needed, particularly as our cache expert. Initially, his work focused on coordinating Archival Unit (AU) ingest into the MetaArchive repository. He has written documentation for the LOCKSS interface that is still used as the official guidance for the LOCKSS GUI. His role transitioned to Network Support on a part-time basis for the last few years and he rejoined the Technical Committee to assist with the LOCKSS 2.0 investigation. Bill has performed everything from writing shell scripts for server maintenance to presenting his work in collaboration with MetaArchive. He contributed to “Chapter 7: Cache and Network Administration for PLNs” in A Guide to Digital Preservation (2010) Edited by Katherine Skinner & Matt Schultz, presented at Designing Storage Architecture hosted by the Library of Congress in 2009 on MetaArchive & Cloud Computing, and joined the Technical Committee in our 2020 MetaArchive LOCKSS Evaluation.

Bill currently serves as the Lead System Engineer at the Georgia Tech Research Institute.

Kurt Nordstrom has been with MetaArchive since 2015 and is the expert on the MetaArchive user interface Conspectus. Conspectus is a central tool for the network and operations, allowing members to manage collection-level metadata and monitor preservation statuses. Kurt led the ongoing maintenance of the front and back ends of Conspectus. He has maintained Conspectus diligently, migrating it from Ruby to Django Python, serving as a backstop and administrator as needed, and perpetually debugging. 

Kurt currently serves as a Software Developer at Index Data.

Chris Helms has been with MetaArchive since 2012. He became the general Systems Administrator and led all AWS infrastructure initiatives, including provisioning AWS, server setup, writing shell scripts for the administrative server, and consultation. Recently, Chris implemented our new Private LOCKSS Network dashboard to stand it up in AWS and manage the keys for our ingest plugins in the network. Chris is the bridge between our Technical Team and the Transition Team during the MetaArchive’s transition to LOCKSS infrastructure and is the point person for facilitating that transition on the MetaArchive side.

Chris has been at the Georgia Tech Library in various IT roles and currently serves as the Manager of Network Services. 

Clay Miller has been key technical support for MetaArchive since 2011. As a Support Engineer for the LOCKSS Project at Stanford University, he has been integral in keeping MetaArchive up and running. He has made himself available to MetaArchive members for direct, one-on-one support for everything LOCKSS, such as cache-hosting configuration, cache server replacements, Linux upgrades on cache servers, AU rebalancing across cache server filesystems, cache recovery; ingest issues diagnosis, and locating the right documentation for any LOCKSS-related question. Clay will continue to be an ongoing resource for the MetaArchive.

Clay currently serves as a Support Engineer for LOCKSS at Stanford University.