Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Report from the Community Workshop on the Open Science Cloud

On November 13th, 2015, a community workshop on the Open Science Cloud titled "Shaping the Open Science Cloud of the Future" took place in Bari, Italy. Agro-Know was invited as a data-powered SME in order to contribute its expertise in serving the agri-food research community - other communities were represented as well.

This provided us with excellent opportunity to present how three different user types could benefit from the envisaged Ope Science Cloud:
  1. Agri-food researchers: I have have spent 13 years in the Agricultural University of Athens; two of them for my MSc. and almost 5 for my PhD. I didn't have any kind of infrastructure suporting me as a researcher back then: I recall copying my data from the lab desktop computer - no laptops back then - using an external parallel Zip drive using 100MB disks (a painfully slow process) or an almost faulty SCSI CD recorder which frequently provided us with lemon copies of the data. When I wanted to share data with our Austrian colleagues I had to create copies of the CDs, check their integrity and then send them to Austria using regular postal service...this makes me (and researchers like me who may have access to the necessary tools and platforms but they do not know how to make use of them) a potential user of the Open Science Cloud, as
    an individual researcher.
  2. A data-powered SME: Agro-Know is working closely with agri-food researchers; we understand their needs and serve them by developing data-powered services. Our AKstem product is a fine example, as it provides a cloud-based web app that supports e.g. content providers who wish to publish their research publications through the FAO AGRIS bibliographic database; both the help desk and the metadata ingestion processes are supported by AKstem. In addition, researchers who wish to apply for funding through any of the Horizon 2020 agri-food calls can get support in terms of describing, developing and implementing the mandatory Open Access and Data Management Plan through AKstem. Such services require cloud-based hosting, storage and data services thus making Agro-Know an SME that is a potential customer/user of the Open Science Cloud offerings.
  3. A global research data hub: AK is only one of the entities behind agINFRA, which currently involves major players in agri-food research at a global level, including (but not limited to) UN FAO (Global), CGIAR (Global), CABI (UK), GODAN (Global), USDA NAL & AGRICOLA (US), OADA (US), CAAS (China) and EMBRAPA (Brasil). INFRA has evolved from an FP7 project to a global atlas of agri-food research. It embraces all types of information related to agri-food research, such as research data and publications, profiles of researchers, organizations and projects activated in specific research contexts, domain-specific standards, software tools, platforms, thematic repositories, registries and indexes and anything else. However, agINFRA does not aim to be yet another registry or catalog of services and entities: instead, it creates a semantic layer providing rich information about each one of these entities and uses vocabularies for classifying them. In this way, these resources are not only more easily retrieved by queries but related heterogeneous resources are linked and therefore presented together after related queries. agINFRA embraces all types of data providers, no matter how big or small they are - the latter usually have limited technical technical and financial capacity for publishing and sharing their data and this is where agINFRA and its dedicated help desk shines.

A large and ever growing network of agri-food data managers, the FAO AIMS community, supports researchers by openly sharing their knowledge through the AIMS platform in blog posts, webinars, discussion as well as in meetings, such as the ones of the Agricultural Data Interoperability Group of the Research Data Alliance. As a result, agINFRA can test, validate and deploy data usage scenarios that include heterogeneous data types from various data sources all over the world. You should keep in mind that agriculture is a complex science, covering thematic areas that range from traditional crop/animal/food science to food safety, food security, forestry, viticulture and wheat research etc. - all these thematic areas produce and make use of a wealth of heterogeneous data such as physical measurements, sensor data, environmental parameters, weather and soil data, soil maps, images, outcomes of DNA/RNA/protein analysis, antibodies, agricultural trials. These highlight the increased need for cloud and grid-based services for these communities to be served and this highlights the role of agINFRA as a potential customer/user of the Open Science Cloud offerings.

After presenting the big picture, I went back to describing the work of a researcher, who apart from conducting his research, he needs to spend time looking for information on the following:
  • Guidance on publishing his research as Open Access; what are the institutional and project policies, what are the available domain-specific repositories to deposit his publications and aggregators etc.;
  • Help on where and how to store his data online using a free cloud service for sharing, managing and preserving his data;
  • Identify other researchers working on the same research area, related organiations and initiatives/projects etc.
  • Funding opportunities to support his research;
  • Other...
Searching for such information and ensuring that he always has the latest versions in his hands, consume valuable time that he could dedicate to his work.

So our vision as Agro-Know and agINFRA in terms of implementing the Open Science Framework in our case is for us to be able to support agri-food researchers in the aforementioned activities using cloud-based, customized and open services, thus saving them time that can be allocated in what they know how to do well: their research.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The European Open Science Cloud for Research & agINFRA

Some of the major EU-funded initiatives/networks, and more specifically EUDAT, LIBER, OpenAIRE, EGI and GEANT agreed to join forces and work on a common vision for the European Open Science Cloud for Research which includes eight elements of success for a concrete contribution to the Digital Single Market:
  1. Open in design, participation and use
  2. Publicly funded & governed with the 'commons approach'
  3. Research-centric with an agile co-design with researchers and research communities
  4. Comprehensive in terms of universality and inclusiveness of all disciplines
  5. Diverse & distributed empowering network effects
  6. Interoperable with common standards for resources and services 
  7. Service-oriented as well as protocol-centric 
  8. Social connecting diverse communities
(for more info, you may refer to the Position Paper at Zenodo).

By joining forces, these networks will be able to identify and address existing overlapping in terms of infrastructure and services provided to the end users and meet the requirements of research communities in terms of infrastructure and tools - but they will need to understand the actual needs of each community that will be served (including our agri-food research one).

These news are extremely important for the research community in various disciplines, as biodiversity (see LifeWatch), agriculture and food security (see agINFRA), marine and aqua (see iMarine & BlueBridge), which have been funded through various calls and have allowed researchers to move on with their research.

agINFRA, an ex-FP7 project and currently a research data hub for the agrifood community, engages some of the biggest players in the agri-food research context - at a global level:
  • The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (UN FAO)
  • CGIAR, with its fifteen (15) research centers all over the world
  • CABI (UK)
  • Wageningen UR
  • The Global Open Data for Agriculture & Nutrition (GODAN)
  • Open Agricultural Data Alliance (OADA)
  • The Agricultural Data Interoperability IG (IGAD) of the Research Data Alliance (RDA)
  • The Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS)
  • EMBRAPA (Empresa Brasileira de Pesquisa Agropecu├íria)
  • ...and many more
Through these collaborations, agINFRA is working on the following:
  1. Enhancing discoverability of agri-food research by building a global atlas / index of agricultural research;
  2. Building a semantic layer that will allow the combination, enrichment and enhancement of heterogeneous information from multiple sources;
  3. Supporting research projects and organizations that (need to) publish their outcomes through a dedicated help desk service;
  4. Engaging a very active community that consists of all agri-food data managers as well as information and knowledge managers at a global level (FAO AIMS & IRDA GAD)
  5. Developing, deploying and testing data-rich and complex agri-food research applications and systems on various thematic areas, such as food safety, agricultural trials, forestry, viticulture research etc.

What do users of a hub like agINFRA need (among others)?
  • Well informed data & knowledge managers in their institutions (e.g. universities);
    • to guide them through the process of open access publishing in the appropriate repositories, data management and hosting services, use of domain-specific standards etc.
  • Online help desk to ask more complex questions:
    • Where should I deposit my open access publication?
    • How can I be compliant with the Horizon 2020 Open Access Policy?
    • Which are the licenses that apply to my research outcomes?
    • Where can I find data management services for storing, organizing and sharing my research data?
    • Where can I find data of interest to me as a researcher?
    • What are the funding opportunities in my domain? Where can I contact researchers working on the same research context as I do?
  • Simple cloud service: A Dropbox for researchers, to store, share and find online their research data.
Let's see if and how such requirements will be met by the Open Science Cloud in the near future; the envisaged services look really promising but they will need to be fine-tuned after consultations with the research communities. Tomorrow I will have the opportunity to present the agri-food use case (of agINFRA) during the Open Science Cloud workshop that takes place in the context of the EGI Community Forum 2015 in Bari, Italy :-)

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

It's one of these days...

...where people just disappear from the office, traveling at the same time and participating in (interesting!) events all over Europe:

...and I am packing my stuff for Bari, Italy, where I will participate in the Community Workshop on the Open Science Cloud: Shaping the Open Science Cloud of the Future on Friday 13/11.

It's been quite a long time since I last saw this happening and a long time since my last business trip (it must be more than one year, if I exclude a domestic one).

I am sure that the Agro-Know office will be fully packed again on Monday. :-)

A photo posted by Agro-Know (@agroknow) on

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

ODI Summit 2015 & Agro-Know

The ODI Summit themed "Celebrating Generation Open" takes place today, 3/11/2015 at London, UK - obviously organized by the Open Data Institute. If you ask me (and many more), it is the biggest Open Data event of the year. Globally. It provides the opportunity to a wide variety of stakeholders to gather and shares their views, updates and ongoing work on open data.

Agro-Know is there, represented by our CEO Nikos Manouselis, who was really excited after attending the Summit last year. Since then, we had the opportunity to get to know the work of ODI better and even got the chance to work with their lovely team on the GODAN Discussion Paper (see also here). On top of that, our COO Giannis Stoitsis successfully completed ODI's Train the Trainer course, becoming a certified Open Data Trainer and since then he has delivered a number of courses on the topic. Last but not least, we have been working on joint project proposals with ODI during the last months and we are really looking forward to see them accepted and start working on their implementation. :-)

I am sure that Nikos will make the most of of this event, and he will come back to the office full of ideas and new connections, among others - any memorabilia from the event will also be more than welcome!

P.S. Did I mention that Agro-Know has recently become an ODI member? :-)