UTS eResearch Strategy Update 2019

About this document

This is the third annual update on the eResearch program at UTS. It tracks our progress towards our strategic goals in the 2016-2020 eResearch strategy

Existing eResearch Strategy

The existing eResearch Strategy outlines how UTS will organise, prioritise and invest in eResearch infrastructure services and support to raise researcher capability and productivity. These are the success criteria for the UTS eResearch Strategy:

  • Researchers and their students have access to best in class research infrastructure consistent with a world-leading university of technology.

  • UTS is seen as a leader in research data management, with mature practices and systems for capturing, managing, sharing and reusing research data.

  • IT systems support researchers, not vice versa.

In 2020 we will formulate a new strategy that meshes with the UTS 2027 Strategy and forthcoming Digital Strategy - we don't yet know what form this will take, but the new strategy will cover eResearch (the doing of research) AND administration (the management of research) - whether there is a specific separate eResearch component named as such is not yet known.

Joining up: Strategy, projects and architecture

Research Systems Board

This year the office of the Deputy Vice Chancellor Research established a new Research Systems Board, chaired by the Assistant Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) Mike Ford, with Deputy Chair Peter Sefton of UTS eResearch; this board represents the first time UTS has taken a joined-up view of all research-related IT systems and activities. For the first time we also had a designated liaison officer for the research portfolio, Anthony Heiler, from the Technology Projects Office.

Improved view of architecture

John Keaveny, under the direction of new IT Enterprise Architect John Bracks has drawn the first architectural plans of our current (complicated) architecture for research systems with the help of eResearch staff. The process began with architecture diagrams from eResearch, and expanding out to cover ALL research systems including administration, metrics, and HDR management – this will serve as the basis for future systems planning.

Projects

In the context of the emerging joined-up view of architecture, this year, for the first time, all research-related IT Capital Management Projects (ITCMP) were managed as a single virtual portfolio.

Highlight 2019: the birth of RES Hub

The Research Excellence and Support Hub (RES Hub) launched in December 2019, as gateway website for all research staff and students at UTS. RESHub is a one-stop directory of the systems used by research staff, including academics, students and professional/general staff, and research related events. The RES Hub physical space will open in early 2020.

Together with our colleagues across ITD and the university, eResearch staff were involved in many facets of RES Hub development in 2019:

  • UTS Research Outcomes Capability Framework: Peter Sefton was part of the team that created this strategically-driven bespoke framework for staff development. The framework will enable career planning for UTS Higher Degree by Research (HDR) students and research staff, including general staff (such as the eResearch team).

  • A new training module on Research Data Management was also created by a working group including eResearch, the Research Office, the Library and faculty staff, with very tight deadlines, in time for the RES Hub launch (UTS only), Sharyn Wise and Peter Sefton were both involved in structuring and populating this module.

  • The Stash Research Data Management system was upgraded throughout 2019 – and is one of the key systems linked under RES Hub's Research Support Systems page. Stash also features heavily in the FAQs on that page.

Summary: How are we going against the success criteria?

Our strategic goals are discussed in more detail below, but here’s a summary of how we’re going against the 2020 vision. We have made solid progress since 2016 as measured by the success criteria .

Researchers and their students have access to best in class research infrastructure …

In 2019 we continued to expand our storage to meet growing demand and further consolidated storage and computing systems (see more detail below).

This is in addition to progress previously reported:

  • We have consolidated storage from more than five separate storage in house solutions managed by the eResearch team pre 2016 to a single, scalable storage system which is managed by ITD Technical Services and eResearch. This has significantly reduced risk, as there are now many more technical staff managing the infrastructure and the same system is used for research and learning storage.

  • The successful and innovative legacy interactive computing platform ARCLab is now being systematically replaced with a new facility, called iHPC (interactive High Performance Computing) that is (a) using the same commodity hardware as our HPC platform (b) housed in the enterprise data centre and (c) virtualised so it can be re-partitioned as needed as UTS researcher skills and needs develop and evolve.

UTS is seen as a leader in research data management …

The new version of Stash, our Research data management platform was launched at the start of 2019, with dramatic growth in numbers of Research Data Management plans, and Research Data Records.

The UTS eResearch team led the development of a new specification for packaging, interchanging and publishing research data; DataCrate. In 2019 this merged with another project, Research Object, to form a new specification Research Object Crate (RO-Crate).

We were successful in securing a $50K discovery grant from that Australian Research Data Commons (ARDC), to explore the RO-Crate standard, in concert with another standard, the Oxford Common File Layout (OCFL), to test the viability of using these together to create scalable, sustainable data repositories. Not only did we successfully demonstrate that this is viable (see the presentation from the National Summit on the Institutional Role in a Data Commons), we:

  1. Got the two standards RO-Crate and OCFL into production, running our UTS Research Data Repository.

  2. Worked with the State Library and staff from the PARADISEC cultural archive to demonstrate that the standards were quick to implement, and that multiple teams could produce working software. The PARADISEC collaboration was particularly fruitful.

IT systems support researchers, not vice versa.

We continue to reach out to our researcher colleagues, the work by the IT Architecture team has been very focussed on user needs, drawing together previous work on Research Administration systems and Business Analysis performed as part of the RES Hub project.

More detail on progress

Theme

Infrastructure

2016 State

Compute & storage established & supported locally.

2020 Goal

Nationally linked compute & storage with integrated support.

2019 stats at a glance: Storage · 58 storage shares created · 474TB allocated to researchers

iHPC (interactive High Performance Computing) facility: · 1025 active users · 91% average nodes utilised per month

HPCC (High Performance Computing Cluster) facility: · 150 active users · 90% average resources utilised per month

2019 Progress

The eResearch Technical team's focus in 2019 was on decommissioning legacy infrastructure and records, strengthening security posture and increasing eResearch's profile with researchers. These align with ITD's 2019 KPIs on security and governance, and prepare for the shift towards cloud platforms.

Aspects of Agile methodology such as weekly stand-up and task tracking were introduced to increase team members' awareness of each other's work and challenges, and improve records of day-to-day tasks. New how-to and knowledge-base articles were also added to Confluence and ServiceConnect to facilitate knowledge sharing. The team resurrected its Twitter account and submitted slides to screens/projectors around the campus to increase its profile, and it has increased engagement with researchers through the Key Technology Partnership (KTP) program and directly with Faculty of Science and the Business School.

In 2020 we plan to:

  • Continue expanding the iHPC facility, replacing old nodes with new capacity.

  • Build secure AWS environments for researchers that will allow them to login using UTS credentials and easily connect to UTS-based resources.

  • Start the groundwork to consolidate HPCC and iHPC infrastructure to become a composable and single-managed facility. As part of that work, the team will also look at technologies that will allow the facility to be dynamically repurposed on-demand.

  • Add a new archival tier to the UTS storage facility to allow for data to be managed for long-term, with preservation and disposal practices in place instead of just storing data because we don't know what can be deleted or how important a dataset may be.

Research Data Management

2016 State

Catalogue live but fragmented RDM support

2020 Goal

End-to-end RDM support including data repository

2019 Progress

Overall Research Data Management via Stash takes off

Stash / provisioner 3.0 - UTS’s end to end research data management application rolled out in February 2019. It provides:

  • A streamlined replacement for managing RDMPs and Dataset descriptions.

  • Integrated research service catalogue (provisioning) linked to RDMPs.

  • A new, highly scalable approach to managing research data for the long term using emerging standards for research data storage.

Work in 2019 included:

  • Launching a data-discovery portal using Research Object Crate (RO-Crate) data packages showing UTS data sets in context, with rich information ("who, what, where") about the data to enable potential re-users to find and evaluate data sets, and to cite them if used. NOTE: this portal has the potential to be merged with the "Find an expert" project being sponsored by RIO, discussions are under way.

  • Plugins for Research Workspace provisioning for Storage, eNotebooks and ReDCAP (clinical trials software).

Planned for 2020

  • Allow researchers to move data between systems, and publish data from any of the linked systems, coordinated from Stash 3.

  • A new Data Description tool, tentatively called Describo to allow researchers and data librarians to describe rich, reusable datasets.

  • Add new Research Workspace services proposed during the year after triage by the project team and approval by the project board. Candidates include Omeka-S for humanities data (for example the Walkley Awards Archive has been proposed), Jupyter notebooks, which provide a browser-based platform which mixes documentation and code.

  • Scope a new Research Workspace, a secure eResearch Platform SeRP for use with sensitive and confidential data.

Research Facilities

2016 State

Data Arena open for business but all facilities need better Research Data Management.

2020 Goal

Data Arena and other facilities integral to world-leading research.

2019 Progress

The OMERO repository for microscopy has been installed in the Microbial Imaging Facility (MIF) and work continues, creating facility-specific workflows and metadata customizations led by staff from the facility.

eResearch is collaborating with other facilities on data management planning as part of our business-as-usual work.

Data Arena: work on data management with the Data Arena has (again) been hampered by resource constraints – there have been no staff available in the facility to do the groundwork needed to describe existing data - so this remains on the backlog.

We have been working with:

  • The Volumetric Imaging Facility on infrastructure for a new lattice light-sheet microscope which will collect 10-20TB of data per project.

  • Centre for Neuroscience and Regenerative Medicine on secure data capture and management pipelines, including data gathering via REDCap.

  • Algae Lab - advised on appropriate infrastructure.

2020 Plans

Assuming the Data Arena is better resourced in 2020, we will continue our work to describe and archive all data from the existing projects and publish as much data and code as possible for re-use.

The Data Archive project (running along with the Stash project) will explore the possibility of setting up local (institute, facility or workgroup level) repositories using the same light-weight systems as we use for the institutional data repository, for data capture and data management so that data can be described and identified as early as possible and an immutable copy kept and backed up.

Researcher Capability

2016 State

Unevenly distributed, some training and advice available

2020 Goal

All HDRs and researchers have access to training & support

2019 Progress

Research data management training

In 2019 we had a major breakthrough in Research Data Management Training, as part of the RES Hub project (reported above).

Joined Software Carpentry

UTS joined the Software Carpentry community (tagline "Teaching basic lab skills for research computing" ) as a Gold Member, and held a two day instructor training course in December. Those instructors will go on to lead courses at UTS and other local universities.

General training

In 2019 we ran (via Intersect):

  • 16 workshops
  • 482 registrants, 361 attended (33.8% higher than 2018)
  • 75% attendance rate
  • Overall Net Promoter Score: 53 (which is VERY good)
Training Net Promoter Score 35

2020 Plans

For 2020:

  • Continue involvement in UTS research development planning, DVCR-office workshops and RES-Hub planning, including developing business cases

  • Conduct Software Carpentry activities

Support Model

2016 State

Locally (non-integrated) support

2020 Goal

Research driven, & support integrated, across central units

2019 progress

We reported above on the work we did with the RES Hub team on providing joined-up support for research systems, and improved governance via the Research Systems Board and much improved collaboration.

In 2019 we improved our support channels in several areas:

  • Postcards: "How to make an RDMP" and "How to Publish data" which we are distributing to faculties for use in induction packs etc.

  • Campus screens: We advertised Hacky Hour and the trial Collections as Data (which ran for a few months) events on campus screens.

The Stash project also delivered a Research Data Management Planning communications plan (thanks Suzanne Cureton), which has increased visibility for RDM services across UTS.

Weisi Chen (Intersect) established an R User group at UTS - which we hope will grow in 2020.

The technical team stepped up their outreach, attending faculty meetings and morning teas, particularly in our most active faculties FEIT and Science. Next year more interaction is planned with FASS and DAB.

We ran a trial "Collections as Data" drop-in session on Wednesday afternoons to try to promote eResearch for HASS and long-tail research projects. While we did have some interesting conversations, attendance was very low and in 2020 we will try to get more interest by hosting a series of presentations to promote the kinds of things that researchers can do with data collections, and talk about how to make them sustainable.

In 2019 we also streamlined our reporting processes, along with the rest of Operations team, setting up an always-available metrics page for each month (UTS ONLY Link). For 2020, we will try to make this a live dashboard, showing up-to-date stats on our computing and storage facilities, numbers of RDMPs and Datasets, and usage of Research Workspaces, time permitting.

2020 Plans

In 2020 we will be working with the office of the DVCR and CIO to look at how best to support research at UTS, which will mean the eResearch team working even more closely with other ITD teams and the Research Office, Library and Office of the DVCR. We don't know what form this will take, but the idea of building on the UTS eResearch team's "full stack, high touch" approach has been raised.