AARNet’s role in supporting and enabling research

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ICT Supporting Research

AARNet’s eResearch Director Peter Elford reports:

Over the past few months, we have been engaging with members of our community to explore how we can strengthen AARNet’s future role in supporting and enabling research.

‘Supporting and enabling research’ has been ranked in the top four of the CAUDIT Top Ten Issues list for the last three years, clearly reflecting the importance of research to Australian universities and the increasingly crucial role Information and Communications Technology (ICT) plays in facilitating more efficient and more effective research (or eResearch).

This also alludes to a gap between the standard ‘corporate’ IT services (ITS) needed for universities’ day to day business, and the requirements and expectations of IT services that specifically support research.

The research IT ecosystem

At a high level, there are some obvious differences in the nature of the communities that are supported by Corporate IT and Research IT, as suggested in the table below, so the existence of a gap should not be a surprise. Of course, some smaller institutions with smaller research communities, or disciplines that have traditionally not been as technically ICT demanding, may not perceive a gap. Very large institutions often have research faculties that have sufficient scale to undertake their own ‘Research IT’, a somewhat decentralised approach to addressing the gap.

Research IT v Corporate IT

However, for most institutions that perceive a gap (or perceive an opportunity to differentiate), the approach taken is typically to establish a function that sits between, or is jointly supported by, the Library, Corporate IT and/or the Research Office to provide a translation/brokering service to connect researchers with ICT problems to ICT solutions.

In some cases this is achieved by appointing a dedicated eResearch Director and team, and in others it’s by securing the services of an eResearch Analyst through an eResearch services provider such as eRSA, INTERSECT, or QCIF.

It’s this brokering capability that is crucial as it helps connect researchers with solutions that might be delivered by Corporate IT, commercial vendors, or dedicated eResearch infrastructure. Solutions might incorporate some unique combination of High Performance Computing (HPC), storage (Big Data), tools (perhaps virtual labs), or network services (perhaps a Science-DMZ).

AARNet’s role

AARNet’s role in this eResearch infrastructure has traditionally been very much a foundational enabling one – the AARNet network provides the national and international connectivity between the infrastructure elements noted above, and through the members’ campus networks interconnects them with researchers and their instruments.

Over time, additional services have been established by AARNet to address the needs of researchers (eg. CloudStor) and different approaches have been proposed by AARNet to deliver data-intensive network services into campus networks (eg. Science DMZ).

With the Federal government embarking on the development of a new eResearch Framework we have been exploring what AARNet’s future role might be:

  • What capabilities does AARNet provide or enable to support research?
  • What services/capabilities are institutions seeking to deliver to their research communities?
  • Which of these services would you expect AARNet to provide?
  • Which of these services would you expect to consume from other providers? (and are they/should they be connected to AARNet?)

At the AARNet Advisory Committee meeting in November, the discussion identified:

  • the importance of the institutional research ICT brokering, or intermediary role,
  • the need for research disciplines to be coordinated in identifying their ICT needs, implying they too are important intermediaries, and
  • a desire for CIO’s, supported by AARNet, to better engage with institutional Deputy Vice Chancellors-Research regarding the research impact of eResearch and AARNet services in particular.

AARNet welcomes further dialogue on the topics raised in this article – please contact

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