Part of the Orbital project governance is that I report to the university’s Research, Innovation and Enterprise Committee. The Committee meets every three months and I send a short report to each meeting and attend every other meeting. Here’s my report for the February committee meeting.
The Orbital Project
Progress report to the Research, Innovation and Enterprise Committee
30th January 2012
Author: Joss Winn, PI/PM.
Progress since the last update to the RIEC on 13th December:
- The short-term focus for the project continues to be the development of the technical infrastructure for managing research data, while being mindful of the long-term requirements to develop policy and a supportive environment for research staff.
- Software development has begun. We have finished setting up the development environment for the Orbital system. This is a major software development project for the university and we have spent some time designing the server architecture and quality assurance procedures for development.
- Orbital will make use of ‘cloud computing’ and is working with ICT as a pilot project for integrating cloud computing into our local infrastructure. A meeting took place with Eduserv, a non-profit provider of cloud computing to the HE sector (running on Janet) and a further meeting is taking place with Rackspace, a major commercial provider of cloud computing services. This work sits alongside ICT’s need to refresh their server infrastructure next year and will provide ICT with a real opportunity to investigate the business case for cloud computing as well as issues around actual implementation.
- A full-time post for a Web Developer has been advertised and we expect the post to begin late March/early April. This is the second full-time Web Developer post on the Orbital project.
- We are pleased that Dr. Ling from the School of Engineering and his PhD student, Chunmei Qing, will work with closely with the Orbital project in the development of the software, policy and training materials. Similarly, we are working with Prof. Chris Bingham and Stuart Watson (Siemens), and have recently joined their fortnightly research meetings, which are extremely useful to the Orbital project. At this stage, we welcome involvement from any Researcher in the School of Engineering and further into the project intend to broaden our use cases to other research disciplines.
- A meeting has been held with Dr. Mansur Darlington from the University of Bath. Dr. Darlington led the JISC-funded ERIM project, which studied the Research Data Management (RDM) issues for the discipline of Engineering. The meeting was very useful for the Orbital team, including partners at Siemens and Researchers in the School of Engineering, who attended. The ERIM project provides a very robust, theoretical basis, which Orbital will attempt to build upon and implement. Similarly, a follow-up to the ERIM project will provide prototype tools, which we hope to build on for Orbital. This is a key external relationship for the Orbital project.
- One issue flagged by Dr. Darlington concerned national funding bodies’ RDM policies. Each funding body has an RDM policy which requires universities to have effective methods in place for managing, preserving and disseminating research data. The EPSRC has told all universities that we must provide them with a RDM roadmap by 1st May 2012 and must be compliant with these expectations by 1st May 2015.
- The Orbital project is required by JISC to produce an RDM Policy for the institution. A national meeting is being organised by JISC to assist with the development of such policy in March. Following this, I suggest that a workshop is held in March where the Orbital project and other key staff from the Library and Research and Enterprise Office begin to draft this Policy and the required EPSRC roadmap. This can then be presented to the RIEC for discussion and approval prior to submission to the EPSRC.
- A meeting has been arranged for March 7th, 9.30-12pm, to discuss the Business Case for Open licenses. This discussion will be of interest for anyone concerned with licensing research outputs (‘Open Access’), software development projects (‘Open Source’), and teaching and learning resources (‘Open Educational Resources’). Staff from the JISC-funded OSS Watch, University of Oxford, will present at this meeting. Andrew Hunter and James Murray will attend and members of the RIEC are also welcome. Please RSVP to Joss Winn by end of February.
- Joss is working with JISC to organise a national event focussing on issues around software development for Research Data Management, which will be held in May.
Attending: Nick Jackson, Annalisa Jones, Bev Jones, Chris Leach, Paul Stainthorp, Joss Winn
Apologies: Lee Mitchell, David Young
- Review Project Plan and Workpackages
- Status updates: Literature Review, User Requirements Analysis, Technology/Standards evaluation
- Forthcoming meetings and conferences (Agile method, Open Source policy, ERIM, Engineers, OR12, DCC, Start-up)
- Poster, papers, website
- Staffing and accommodation
Joss Winn (JW) reported in detail:
- JW reported on the work done to date (mostly relating to workpackage WP1), and reported back on:
- The successful first meeting with users from the School of Engineering
- The first Steering Group meeting on 3 November
- The submission of the project plan
- The appointment of NJ as lead developer
- The relocation of NJ and PS (part-time) to CERD’s offices to work on Orbital
- JW ran through the project outputs and workpackages in detail, identifying deadlines – most notably the Implementation Plan, which must be submitted by February 2012, with the following four pieces of work completed by then:
- Data sources (NJ/CL)
- User requirements (NJ)
- Literature review (PS/BJ/CL)
- Technical review (NJ/JW)
- The group discussed the further user-engagement work to be completed in workpackages WP5, including Nick Jackson’s work with the School of Engineering to assess their requirements (through workshops, questionnaires, observation, and use of the Data Asset Framework – DAF), and on a planned round-table meeting about ERIM in late January
- ACTION (NJ): dates needs to be set for user requirements exercises.
- ACTION (PS): Date in late January needs to be set for ERIM workshop with Engineers.
- PS reported on the work that he and NJ have begun to benchmark against the EPrints deposit workflow (WP8). NJ will work closely with BJ on this.
- The group discussed WP9—the planned assessment of data sources—and CL’s role as library user. There are three obvious areas where Orbital crosses over with the Library’s priorities:
- Integration with the Library’s Discovery selection & implementation project (CL)
- Integration with the Repository (BJ)
- Authentication (CL)
- The Research & Enterprise office (i.e. AJ) will lead on WP11 – developing training materials & workshops.
- JW will carry on the work with the University’s IP manager, James Murray on the correct approach to Open Sourcing code from Orbital – WP13.
- ACTION: JW to follow up contacts with EPrints Services and OSSWatch.
- Dissemination (WP14):
- PS has been invited to speak at two events in January/February. The group will aim to have a publishable conference paper ready by Summer 2012. Submit abstract to OR12 by ?.
- NJ, PS and JW are attending the project startup meeting in Nottingham on 1-2 December; presenting a poster. Also attending the DCC roadshow in Cardiff in mid-December.
- Any other business:
- JW is convening a meeting (8th December) about agile software and project development methods.
- ACTION: as many people as possible from Orbital to attend ‘agile’ meeting.
Paul, Nick and I had a great meeting with the two principal Engineering users last week, where we set out our broad objectives and discussed their involvement on the Orbital Project. It’s always been our intention to work with three types of user: academic staff, a commercial research partner and a PhD student. This morning, we met Chris Bingham, Prof. of Energy Conversion, and Stuart Watson, Head of Remote Monitoring and Diagnostics at Siemens. Later this week, we’ll be meeting Reader in Optimisation and Symbolic Dynamics, Dr Wing-Kuen Ling and one of his PhD students, who are also interested in contributing to the Orbital project.
At last week’s meeting we discussed Chris and Stuart’s current practice of working on sensor data from Siemen’s turbines, which involves a combination of physically secured machines, secure web services and sanitised data. As is common practice when working with commercial partners, the resulting research papers go through an approval process with the commercial partner prior to being submitted for publication and data is routinely abstracted so that confidential and commercially sensitive data isn’t made public.
We discussed how these current practices might be improved over and above the ‘baseline’ method used now. Chris and Stuart both felt that improvements could be made around physical access to the data (possibly PKI card integration) and a system that does not encourage copies being made of the data. There should be no need for Engineers to take data away with them, but rather always be available from a single data store. We also discussed the use of the Cloud for storing data and both Stuart and Chris acknowledged that attitudes towards Cloud Computing were changing and that it’s worth considering it.
Their measure of success of our research data infrastructure is whether it increases productivity and overcomes some of the barriers to access and sharing of the data that currently exist. They also expressed an interest in how the infrastructure can also help manage related artefacts, such as presentations and research papers. Ideally, they want something that helps manage all aspects of their research environment rather than fragment it into disparate systems.
Actions from the meeting were to introduce the project at the next all staff meeting of the School of Engineering (done), arrange to meet the Developer of Siemen’s in-house software and, as mentioned above, speak to Dr Ling about his involvement as a user on the project, recognising that his area of research is different to Chris and Stuart’s and presents us with a different type of data and workflow. Finally, we also agreed to invite Dr. Mansur Darlington of the ERIM project to hold an extended meeting in late January with Engineering staff to discuss the outcomes of the ERIM project.
We met this morning for our first Steering Group meeting of the Orbital Project. Following a discussion about the objectives of the MRD programme in general, the main agenda point was to discuss the Project Plan prior to me sending it to JISC. I will publish the Plan on this website once it has been signed off.
Questions were raised by the Steering Group specific to the research data of Engineers and the confidential and commercial nature of their work. Our School of Engineering was established through a partnership with Siemens and therefore the research undertaken by some of our researchers uses data provided under strict confidentiality agreements. The Orbital project has always been aware of this and it is one of the interesting challenges which we highlighted in our bid to JISC. It raises very important questions over ownership, authenticity, privacy and liability. Further discussions on this topic will be forthcoming.
Another point was raised by Dr. James Murray, our IP Manager, around the use of open licenses for documentation and code and whether the infrastructure we develop might have any commercial value. On a project of this size, it’s an important question and one I had given some thought to. Personally, I admire the way that the University of Southampton has created a commercial service around their open source EPrints software, which we use and subscribe to at Lincoln. I was asked if we might invite someone from EPrints Services to come to discuss their experience with the Steering Group at our next meeting in February. I was pleased that this was brought up at this early stage as developing a Business Case for Orbital is not only vital to the long-term sustainability of our work, but a required output of the project, too. Given the project team’s preference for employing and publishing open source software, I’m keen that a Business Model based on open source software be given thorough consideration. It’s very early days to be thinking about this, but such considerations do take time to work out, too.
Finally, Prof. Andrew Hunter, Head of the College of Science and our Senior User, identified other areas of our STEM research that would benefit from the work of Orbital. This is not something we need to concentrate on right now in this MRD pilot project, but it, too, is an important consideration in planning for the long-term deployment and use of Orbital.