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AFTERBURN REPORT 2002

Database

2002 saw a great deal of activity within the realm of the Burning Man Database Team. It has been and remains a challenge to keep up with the needs of a rapidly changing and growing organization. We've seen Burning Man outgrow a number of the simpler systems that served well in past years. The Database Team, like the Technical Team as a whole, has had to focus not merely upon meeting immediate needs, but on creating systems that will be sustainable, scalable, and adaptable over time.

At the beginning of the year we suffered a hard drive failure on our primary database server. We were shocked and disappointed to discover that our database backup system had been misconfigured, and we lost nearly a month's worth of data, much of which had been entered by hand. The recovery process was painful but, thankfully, effective. We now have a correctly configured primary backup system and additionally have implemented a secondary, redundant backup system.

The office move in March did not particularly affect the database service on the office LAN, as the internal network remained very much the same. It did, however, affect a number of the website questionnaires, which are served off of machines that reside in the office. The move went very smoothly, and the questionnaires were modified, tested, and verified to work from their new location.

Also in March, we conducted a "Database Summit" to bring together people from several different departments who had been working on assorted database projects. The intent was to empower each group to develop tools meeting that group's specific needs, and also to minimize duplicated efforts and duplicated data sets. The discussion was challenging and productive, and the groups involved started sharing tips, resources, and data.

The most significant database effort of the past year was the development of what we call the PeopleDB. The PeopleDB is, in part, a human resources database; it contains information about the Burning Man staff and volunteers. More than this, however, it is intended to be the foundation for a Burning Man community database. It is our hope to construct a digital environment that somehow conveys the magic and flavor of Black Rock City, and we know that this magic emanates entirely from the participants. The Extranet project represents the first stirrings of this virtual-BRC, and the PeopleDB has been built specifically to support it.

Looking ahead, the need to consolidate our systems will continue to grow. As a glance at the Database Team's 2001 AfterBurn Report will show, the idea of a central database system replacing many disparate tools has been around for a while. Our determination to build such a system has been strengthened by our experience over the last 12 months and our deeper understanding of the long-term database needs of the Burning Man organization. The coming year will see this team develop a concrete specification for the first iterations of this shared system, as well as the beginning of the long process of migration from the current tools to the ones that we will construct to replace them.

Finally, the Database Team has undergone some significant personnel changes in recent months. It is with gratitude and respect that we wish the departing veterans success in their future ventures, and it is with excitement and anticipation that we look forward to the contributions of the new members of our team.

Submitted by,

Rob Miller
Technology Dept Lead

Click here to read the 2001 Database report.