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A Europe-wide Interoperable Virtual Research Environment to Empower Multidisciplinary Research Communities and Accelerate Innovation and Collaboration

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - VRE4EIC (A Europe-wide Interoperable Virtual Research Environment to Empower Multidisciplinary Research Communities and Accelerate Innovation and Collaboration)

Reporting period: 2017-04-01 to 2018-09-30

VRE4EIC has developed a reference architecture and software components for VREs (Virtual Research Environments). This product (e-VRE: Enhanced VRE) bridges existing e-RIs (e-Research Infrastructures) such as EPOS and the ENVRI+ e-RI cluster, both represented in the project, themselves supported by e-Is (e-Infrastructures) such as GEANT, EUDAT, PRACE, EGI and OpenAIRE. The e-VRE provides a homogeneous interface for users virtualising access to the heterogeneous datasets, software services and resources of the e-Research Infrastructures.
The architecture also supports collaboration and communication between users and researchers ; and provides means to access research management/administrative facilities so that the end-user has a complete research environment.
During the whole duration (M1-36) the project has remained on track, providing deliverables on time and with internal quality-checking procedures. The key results obtained are as follows:
1. Collection and analysis of detailed requirements from researcher end-users linked with use cases, with special attention to the balance between Open Science and privacy related requirements;
2. characterisation of a large number of RIs (Research Infrastructures) to determine (a) the digital assets they can make accessible and (b) the available interfaces (e-RI) to allow the VRE4EIC e-VRE to interoperate with them securely;
3. mapping the metadata formats in e-RIs describing their assets to CERIF (Common European Research Information Format: an EU Recommendation to Member States) to provide a common, rich canonical metadata format with formal syntax and declared semantics as required to interoperate across the heterogeneous metadata assets (and the assets described by the metadata);
4. proposing a reference architecture for VREs and corresponding technical architecture for development including a gap analysis to identify the functionalities of the architecture of most benefit to existing e-RIs wishing to implement – or interoperate with – the VRE4EIC e-VRE;
5. developing a complete implementation of the Reference Architecture into the Canonical Reference Prototype
6. developing five demonstrators, one on a global security infrastructure, two on the Canonical Reference Prototype and one each on the two enhanced EPOS and ENVRIplus VREs.
7. creating a globally accessible codebase of the technology developed by the project on GitHub
8. creating a globally accessible deployment of the technology developed by the project on the CNR ISTI servers and keeping it available for at least two years after the end of the project
9. initiating a workshop jointly with W3C to improve DCAT (Data Catalog Vocabulary) using the experience from VRE4EIC and especially CERIF;
10. following the workshop, supporting the W3C Dataset Exchange Working Group to establish international standards in this space;
11. meeting jointly with EVER-EST to discuss common approaches and cooperation;
12. with EVER-EST initiating the RDA (Research Data Alliance) Interest Group on VREs and the related SGs (Science Gateways) and VLs (Virtual Laboratories);
13. disseminating information on VRE4EIC at workshops and events, maintaining a website for the project (https://www.vre4eic.eu/ ) supported by social media, press releases, newsletter, leaflets and roll-ups.
14. Organising a special section of ERCIM News 109 on VREs with contributions from VRE4EIC and others;
15. Producing scholarly publications.

An exploitation plan, both collectively and individually, has been produced. Not only are the project results being used in e-RIs by researchers, but also the products are being assessed by several SMEs although in the DoA we predicted that the VRE market was not yet sufficiently mature for commercial exploitation.
VRE4EIC concentrates on interoperation with e-RIs because (a) they have considerable research assets available; (b) they have large communities of researchers. The e-RIs in turn utilise the e-Is and so VRE4EIC has also been interacting with – for example – EOSC (European Open Science Cloud), EUDAT, OpenAIRE and GEANT.

VRE4EIC provides a superset canonical rich catalog into which metadata from the distributed heterogeneous e-RI catalogs is imported – via convertors – to provide a homogeneous view over the heterogeneous metadata describing the assets and thus automated findability and accessibility.

The current state of the art in interoperability and re-use among research assets is usually restricted to a particular domain where local metadata standards (usually based on extensions of recognised standards such as ISO19115, Dublin Core, DCAT and CKAN) are utilised. This requires considerable human effort and rarely is (even partially) automated. The VRE4EIC catalog provides the means to allow homogeneous access across the heterogeneous metadata provided and thus – progressively - interoperability and re-usability.

The VRE4EIC reference architecture and component services are designed to be utilised either embedded within an e-RI (so providing researchers in the community of one RI services to interoperate with other e-RIs, as has been done with EPOS and ENVRIplus) or as a super service (i.e. a deployment of the Canonical Reference Prototype) accessing multiple e-RIs and used by the communities.

The VRE4EIC impact is in providing a reference architecture and software services to be implemented within RIs or as a service spanning RIs:
1. to provide researchers with services to find, access, interoperate and re-use research assets managed by RIs;
2. to provide researchers with services to assist in the management of their research activity;
3. to provide researchers with services to intercommunicate;
thus providing an ICT support environment for their research activity. Additionally, where assets are openly available, they may be utilised by commercial organisations for profitable services to customers.

Acknowledgement:
This work has been carried out within the VRE4EIC project and has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 676247
https://www.vre4eic.eu/