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  • Periodic Reporting for period 1 - VRE4EIC (A Europe-wide Interoperable Virtual Research Environment to Empower Multidisciplinary Research Communities and Accelerate Innovation and Collaboration)

VRE4EIC Report Summary

Project ID: 676247
Funded under: H2020-EU.

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - VRE4EIC (A Europe-wide Interoperable Virtual Research Environment to Empower Multidisciplinary Research Communities and Accelerate Innovation and Collaboration)

Reporting period: 2015-10-01 to 2017-03-31

Summary of the context and overall objectives of the project

VRE4EIC is developing 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 ENVRI+, both represented in the project, themselves supported by e-Is (e-Infrastructures) such as GEANT, EUDAT, PRACE, EGI, OpenAIRE. The e-VRE provides a comfortable homogeneous interface for users by virtualising access to the heterogeneous datasets, software services and resources of the e-RIs. On top of this it also supports collaboration and communication between users/researchers. Finally it provides access to research management /administrative facilities so that the end-user has a complete research environment.

Work performed from the beginning of the project to the end of the period covered by the report and main results achieved so far

During the period (M1-18) the project has remained on track, providing deliverables on time and with internal quality-checking procedures. The key results obtained in the period are as follows:
1. collection of detailed requirements from researcher end-users linked with use cases;
2. characterisation of a large number of RIs (Research Infrastructures) to determine the information they hold and make available and the available interfaces to allow the VRE4EIC e-VRE to interoperate with them;
3. mapping the most-used metadata formats in RIs describing their assets (especially data) 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 commencing the development including a gap analysis to identify the functionalities of the architecture of most benefit to existing RIs wishing to implement – or interoperate with – the VRE4EIC e-VRE;
5. initiating and participating in a workshop jointly with W3C aiming to improve DCAT (Data Catalog Vocabulary) using the experience from VRE4EIC and especially CERIF;
6. following from the joint workshop, supporting the W3C Dataset Exchange Working Group to establish international standards in this space;
7. meeting jointly with EVER-EST to discuss common approaches and cooperation;
8. with EVER-EST initiating he RDA (Research Data Alliance) Interest Group on VREs and the related SGs (Science Gateways) and VLs (Virtual Laboratories);
9. disseminating information on VRE4EIC at various workshops and events as well as maintaining a website for the project ( ) supported by social media, press releases, leaflets and roll-ups to be used at presentations.
10. Organising a special section of ERCIM News 109 on VREs with contributions from VRE4EIC and others;
11. Planning a series of scholarly publications and submitting the first for publication.

Progress beyond the state of the art and expected potential impact (including the socio-economic impact and the wider societal implications of the project so far)

The state of the art in VREs (and similar concepts with different names) is confused. Some use the term to refer to the enhanced user interface to heterogeneous distributed research assets and some use the term to refer to everything ICT-supported seen by a researcher. VRE4EIC uses the former definition. VRE4EIC concentrates on interoperation with RIs because (a) they have considerable research assets available; (b) they have large communities of researchers.
At present assets are generally findable and accessible because they are described by some sort of metadata with textual keywords that can be searched and a URL or other identifier/pointer mechanism to locate the asset. The metadata is available in heterogeneous distributed domain-specific catalogs and so the researcher has to search in many places to find the required assets – this requires considerable human effort. VRE4EIC provides a superset canonical rich catalog into which information from the distributed catalogs is imported – via convertors – to provide a homogeneous view over the heterogeneous metadata describing the assets and thus automated findability and accessibility. Access to the catalog is offered via the Metadata Manager component of the reference architecture, encapsulating all operations on the descriptions held in the catalog. The Metadata Manager is one of the components actually implemented by the project, and will be included in the architecture of EPOS, enhancing EPOS’ interoperability level.
The current state of the art has some interoperability and re-use among research assets but this is usually restricted to a particular domain where local metadata standards (usually based on extensions of recognised standards such as ISO19115, Dublin Core, DCAT, CKAN) are utilised. However, the interoperation usually requires considerable human effort and rarely is (even partially) automated. The VRE4EIC catalog will provide 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 a RI (so providing researchers in the community of one RI services to interoperate with other RIs) or as a super service accessing multiple RIs and used by the communities.
The VRE4EIC impact will be 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 environment of ICT support for their research activity.

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

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