Datasets and DevOps: Helping a Data Organization with Code and Process

The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) supports research into the world’s frozen realms. NSIDC manages and distributes scientific data, creates tools for data access, supports data users, performs scientific research, and educates the public about the cryosphere.

The NSIDC development team was faced with some difficult Drupal tasks and utilized the Aten consulting team to collaborate and troubleshoot. The first task was to address a complicated feature NSIDC wanted to add to their existing websitehighlighting spatial regions on a map based on a feed of coordinates. The NSIDC also looked to us to help improve their deployment process.

The NSIDC had datasets that included coordinates for regions of the world that needed visual highlighting on a map. Aten helped them highlight these regions by creating a block in Drupal that rendered a map with the Leaflet mapping JavaScript library. Using Drupal’s Leaflet module, we were able to pull the coordinates out of the data stored in Drupal and pass them into the JavaScript map.

This required extending the Drupal module to leverage more of Leaflet’s JavaScript API. We created a small patch to add the functionality we needed to properly render NSIDC’s data. This patch has since been added into the Leaflet Drupal module.

In addition, we noticed an opportunity for the NSIDC team to gain efficiencies, cut down on rework and reduce room for error and suggested using the remaining time to introduce some industry best practices regarding an improved deployment process.  

NSIDC already had plans for improving their internal code management that included moving to Git for handling version control, as well as leveraging Vagrant and virtual machines for managing their server stacks. Aten helped them build on that foundation by focusing on Drupal configuration. Moving new features from one environment to the next is a challenge for every project, since Drupal stores all of this in the database alongside content. Getting those settings into code where it can be versioned, tested, and finally deployed requires extra thought. For NSIDC we recommended the Features module, and helped provide insight as to how we organize these on our own projects.

Going into this relationship with the NSIDC, we thought it would involve a few development tasks that would take their existing website to the next level. Once the other types of needs were identified, it was great to have the flexibility to adapt and bring efficiencies to the internal tech team. The Aten consulting team really enjoys the opportunity to use our diverse areas of expertise — from front-end development to back-end development to project management to DevOps process improvements.

"I enjoyed working with the Aten team – everyone is very professional. I loved how James came through with exactly what we asked for every time." - Teri Hoyer, Web Designer, The National Snow and Ice Data Center

James Nettik is a Front-End Developer at Aten and worked closely with the NSIDC team on this project and contributed to this post.

Code Process