The Vision: Research in an interconnected world – How to stitch the research village together?
The Internet has fundamentally changed the way in which scientists and other researchers use computers. Data storage, academic papers, software applications and scientific instrument controllers no longer need to be located within or even near to the laboratory. With the advent of the grid and now cloud computing, a myriad of possibilities are now available for how and where computational and data resources can exist. Experimental, or general observational, data can be stored in secure and environmentally viable data centres; collaborating researchers can contribute to draft papers stored virtually somewhere in the cloud; national and regional grid networks can provide access to specialist applications and at competitive rates; unique instruments from particle accelerators to telescopes can be accessed and monitored remotely.
At the moment there is no common interface for conducting research in this distributed way and therefore no common manual from which new scientists can learn. Researchers are increasingly using informal channels such as social networking sites and blogs to share and learn about best practices and potential collaborators as well as to store their own preliminary notes. Conversely the act of making observations or performing experiments is poorly provided for in this new digital landscape and therefore this information is only very rarely shared.
However, social networking is good for learning best practices but is risky when used in the context of experiments and observations: informal recording make provenance and sharing/reuse more unreliable. The SRF integrates the advantages of the social networking approach while maintaining rigour and reliability - that is the hallmark of the SRF approach to data management. We can therefore exploit this change in outlook to improve the efficiency, accuracy and reliability of research without the loss of rigour that would otherwise occur.