A JISC-funded Managing Research Data project

Posts tagged orbitalMRD

I’m immensely excited that the following Grade 7 developer job at the University of Lincoln (initially for a fixed term of two years) is now open for applications. Please contact me if you’d like to discuss the role. If you don’t know Lincoln, it’s an interesting, historic small city and the University’s waterside Brayford Pool campus is a very nice place to work.

You can download the job description document, and apply online, at:


Research Information Services Developer

Brayford Library Team

Location: Brayford
Salary: From £30,424 per annum
This post is fixed term for two years
Closing Date: Sunday 30 June 2013
Reference: LR4068

We are seeking to appoint an innovative and enthusiastic software developer, with demonstrable experience and understanding of research in an HE environment.

Based in the Library, and reporting to the Head of Electronic Library Services, this exciting new role will lead on coordinating and developing the University’s services and resources for the researcher community, including support for Open Access publishing and research data management.

You can expect to contribute towards significant institutional change in the way research information and research data is managed, analysed and disseminated at the University of Lincoln.

Working closely with other colleagues within the Library, ICT and the Research Office, you will be responsible for leading the technical design and development of research information services at Lincoln, including research data management, bibliometrics and research intelligence, research dashboarding, and the University’s Institutional Repository.

You must have an excellent understanding of the technologies and programming languages used in developing data-driven web services to support research. You will also have successfully managed projects, have good communication skills, and enjoy working as a member of a team in a busy environment.

You must able to take initiative, be well organised and have a proven ability to prioritise and meet tight deadlines. A familiarity with the current UK research environment is also essential.

Potential applicants are encouraged to contact Paul Stainthorp <pstainthorp@lincoln.ac.uk>for an informal discussion on 01522 886 193 or pstainthorp@lincoln.ac.uk.

Below are two short presentations I gave at the JISC programme meeting today. Both concern different aspects and advantages of using CKAN to manage research data. They simply link through to blog posts that have been written here which offer more detailed information. During the presentations, I gave demonstrations of using CKAN in practice.

On Wednesday, we hosted three people from the Open Knowledge Foundation, to discuss the Orbital project and their software, CKAN. It was a very engaging and productive day spent with Peter Murray-Rust (on the Advisory Board of OKFN), Mark Wainwright (community co-ordinator) and Ross Jones (core developer). We asked them at the start of the day to challenge us about our technical work on Orbital so far and I described the day to them as an opportunity to evaluate our work developing the Orbital software so far. We didn’t touch on the other aspects of the Orbital project such as policy development and training for researchers.

To cut to the chase, the Orbital project will be adopting CKAN as the primary platform for further development of the technical infrastrcuture for RDM at Lincoln. This is subject to approval by the Steering Group, but the reasons are compelling in many ways and I am confident that the Steering Group will accept this recommendation. More importantly, the Implementation Plan that was approved by the Steering group and submitted to JISC remains unchanged.

The raw notes from our meeting are available here. Remember these are raw notes written throughout the day, primarily for our own record. They probably mean more to us than they do to you! Thanks to Paul Stainthorp for his fanatical note taking :-)

Here’s the list of attendees and our agenda:


Peter Murray-Rust (OKFN)
Mark Wainwright (OKFN)
Ross Jones (OKFN)
Joss Winn (University of Lincoln, CERD)
Nick Jackson (University of Lincoln, CERD)
Harry Newton (University of Lincoln, CERD)
Jamie Mahoney (University of Lincoln, CERD)
Alex Bilbie (University of Lincoln, ICT services)
Paul Stainthorp (University of Lincoln, Library)


09.30 Introductions
10.00 Orbital introduction and context: Student as Producer, LNCD; Orbital bid and pilot project; Discussion of Orbital approach, the data we’re using, user needs etc.
10.30 CKAN introduction and context
11.00 Technical discussion – Orbital
12.00 LUNCH
12.30 Technical discussion – CKAN
13.30 Discussion – should Orbital adopt CKAN?
14.00 data[.lincoln].ac.uk
15.00 Next steps; Opportunities for collaboration/funding?

What is probably of most interest to people reading this are the pros & cons of the Orbital project adopting CKAN. I’ll provide more context further into the post, but here’s a summary copied from our notes:


The Orbital project team met today (24 May 2012) and agreed the following:

  • Documentation
  • User documentation will focus on the “why”s of Research Data Management, rather than being a point-and-click guide to the Orbital UI (which should not require detailed explanations).
  • JW will create a changelog (human readable text file) for each major release of Orbital, so that documentation for each feature is review if that feature is updated.
  • PS will lead on writing documentation (as HTML pages, stored in the GitHub repository), with documentation for release v0.N completed and available by the launch of v0.N+1
  • PS will email colleagues from the Library and Research/Enterprise for assistance on writing documentation.
  • Training
  • JW will invite Melanie Bullock and David Sheppard on to the Orbital working group. He is meeting Annalisa Jones to discuss RDM training for staff.
  • Releases/development
  • Orbital v0.1.1 (including bug fixes) met all of the initial ‘minimum viable product‘ requirements specified by Dr Tom Duckett, and also includes the basics of project administration.
  • v0.2 will include improvements to the file upload/management, project management, and license management interfaces, as well as clearer distinction between language files and operating code.
  • NJ demoed the current version of Orbital to Siemens staff. He now has access to Siemens machine data for testing within Orbital.
  • The group discussed the LNCD plans for internal servers/private cloud, and about the disk space requirements and costs.
  • Integration
  • The current version of the DMPOnline tool has been installed on a test server. The group discussed our approach to integration between external tools/software (such as DMPOnline, R, Gephi) and Orbital.
  • NJ is going to email Adrian Richardson at the DCC to ask when the DMPOnline APIs will become available.
  • RDM policy
  • JW presented the draft policy to the University RIEC committee. The committee have been asked to send comments to Joss. (One comment at the committee meeting was that our having a policy too geared around the requirements of the Research Councils may not be appropriate for Lincoln, which generates a lot of non-RC income. However it was noted that the good practice specified by the RCs is good practice for management of all research data, whatever the funding source.)
  • Conferences and meetings
  • The group discussed the recent DAF survey which we conducted at the University of Lincoln.
  • JW will convene a sub-group to consider the responses in detail, and plan follow-up interviews.
  • Business case
  • JW is currently gathering costs for long-term data storage. This will form the first strand of the Orbital business case, which will be presented to University SMT (along with the agreed RDM policy) in September 2012.

This is a post about our first release of Orbital.

About a month ago, Dr. Tom Duckett, Reader in The Department of Computing and Informatics approached the Orbital project because he urgently wanted to publish around 20GB of data for Long-term mobile robot operations. That afternoon, we gave Tom and Feras Dayoub, his Research Assistant, space on one of our servers and they uploaded a bunch of HTML pages and the zipped up data. We minted a proxy URL for them and advised them on an appropriate data license to choose.   We also set up Google Analytics, so they could see what interest in his data there was.

Job done. For the time being.

What Tom really wanted was to be able to email a link to his data to a robotics mailing list and tell an international community of likeminded researchers and manufacturers that the data was available to use. He says that long-term datasets for mobile robots are quite rare in his community, so there was a good chance people would be interested in them. He also wanted to be able to demonstrate his work when writing an EU bid. There will be a follow up blog post about what impact this has had on Tom’s research.

That afternoon got us thinking: What is the minimal set of functions that a researcher like Tom requires of a Research Data Management tool?

Tom wanted access (sign in) to a server (hosting) where he could upload his data (storage) and describe it so that other people could understand and download it (publish) under an appropriate license. The URL pointing to the data should be persistent, even if the data itself is migrated from one system to another. The impact (analytics) of the data should also be measurable.

Tom’s chance intervention in our project made us focus on Orbital v0.1 as the ‘minimum viable product‘ for researchers who need to publish open data. We thought his requirements were a great opportunity to release something early and start getting direct user feedback on our product. We decided to set a release date for Orbital v0.1 a month ahead and aim to deliver everything that Tom asked of us in this first release.

A Minimum Viable Product has just those features that allow the product to be deployed, and no more.

Today, we released Orbital v0.1 and it does everything described above. It’s an alpha release, but we’ve been testing it like crazy, we also had Feras test it and we’ve been pushing code through Jenkins since the beginning of the project so we know it passes our QA checks and we think it’s stable enough for use. From this point forward, Orbital and the URIs it mints will persist, too.

From today, a researcher at the University of Lincoln can sign in to Orbital, create and describe a project, upload their data to the project, choose a license for the data and add a Google Analytics code to measure project analytics (we’re also tracking each button click to better understand how people use Orbital). The data is published at a id.lincoln.ac.uk URI, which will persist indefinitely. At this stage, until we’ve got an approved business case for scaling it up and out to all academics, we’ll be limiting uploads on a case-by-case basis. You can view and request what other features we develop for Orbital on UserVoice, or in more detail on our project tracker. We’ve also written a basic development roadmap.

For developers, here are the basic technical details. You might also want to trawl through our implementation plan and the collected blog posts at the bottom of the plan.

Orbital is written in PHP using the CodeIgniter development framework.  It’s split into two main pieces of functionality. Orbital Core (database and APIs) is currently hosted on a Linux box on Rackspace’s cloud. Orbital Manager (the User Interface) is likewise hosted on Rackspace. A user signs in to Orbital Manager via OAuth 2.0 using their university credentials. Orbital Manager is using Twitter’s Bootstrap framework. The project metadata is stored in a MySQL database. Files are uploaded to Rackspace’s cloud files storage using Andrew Valums’s AJAX Uploader. APIs are exposed using Phil Sturgeon’s CodeIgniter REST server.

Orbital is licensed under the GNU Affero GPL 3 license and you can download, fork it and create pull requests on Github:

Orbital Core

Orbital Manager

New contributors to Orbital will be ritually applauded each weekday morning :-) Thanks.