Skip to main content

Software and research: the Institute's Blog

EGILogo.pngThis week, I'm at the EGI (European Grid Infrastructure) User Forum in Vilnius (if you want to know more about the EGI, see my earlier post).

Before the first plenary was over, the term sustainability had featured at least a dozen times. This is heartening news for the Software Sustainability Institute! I was particularly interested in Alberto Di Meglio’s plenary talk about ‘open-source middleware and the road to sustainability’ (middleware is the software that ties together different computer resources). Alberto is the leader of the European Middleware Initiative (EMI) and in his talk he identified three ways to aid the sustainability of their software: expansion of the user base, reducing costs and involving commercial partners.

Expand your user base

The more users you have signed up, the more important your software will be to the research community, and the less likely that it will be allowed to fail. But growing a community is difficult. You’ve got to be doing the right thing, and talking to the right people. As for doing the right thing Alberto raised a good point: if your current users aren't happy, you’re unlikely to please new ones.

Alberto’s team ran a survey to find out what their current users thought of the EMI’s software. They did well on the 'perception of usefulness', since people thought that their software was important to…

Continue Reading

EGILogo.pngThe European Grid Infrastructure (EGI) provides European researchers with access to computing resources. And not just any computing resources – we’re talking big resources, the kind needed by scientists working on the Large Hadron Collider. There’s some interesting overlap between the EGI's work and the Software Sustainability Institute, especially when it comes to supporting research, so this week I’m at the EGI User Forum to find out more.

If you’re interested in the grid, the EGI has some very good resources to describe their work. They’ve created a guide to the grid, which describes what’s what and who’s who, and they have a blog cast that keeps everyone up to date with the latest developments.

FinalSticker.pngAs a philosophy, no publicity is bad publicity seems to work pretty well for celebrities. The kind of transgressions that would end most people’s careers only seem to bolster a celebrity's stock. But before you attempt to raise your project’s status by being caught in flagrante delicto, it’s good to remember how far we can push things in the real world – a subject that came up recently here at the Software Sustainability Institute.

As a new project, we want our name to be known in the outside world. Exposure costs money, and that’s something that academic institutes don’t have (especially in these austere times). We needed a new idea.

Apart from their passports and clothes, researchers always take one thing with them when they travel and meet people: their laptops. If we could persuade people to put a Software Sustainability Institute sticker on their laptop, we’d get excellent exposure at hardly any cost. A fantastic idea! But one with a tiny little flaw: even if it is bought by your employer, a laptop is a personal item and people aren’t just going to plaster them with anything. (I speak from experience. I recently got a shiny new MacBook Pro and I’d rather be tattooed on the forehead than allow anything to ruin its sensuous curves and sleek aluminium lines.)

In the bid for the Software Sustainability Institute, we used the term software decay. This vivid term describes the tendency for software to break down and become more prone to error unless effort is invested in its upkeep.…

Continue Reading

As is traditional at 12.00, we have to come clean and say that the following post was published for April Fool’s day. Sorry…

There is a worrying correlation between the number of IT projects in the world, and the number of IT project overruns. In fact, a Whitehall report shows that  UK public IT projects were, in total, 86 years overdue and £2bn over budget! That’s bad news for the exchequer, but it seems like there’s worse to come. It turns out that the Millennium Bug has been subject to project overruns that have delayed its delivery by at least twelve years. Ominously, this would bring delivery of The Bug into line with ancient Mayan prophesies predicting the end of the world in 2012.

At the turn of the Millennium, the world was dominated by three things: the fear of not getting invited to a good New Year’s Eve party, a building resentment of the Prince song ‘1999’ and a whipped up hysteria that aircraft were going to fall from the sky. On 1 January 2000, the world witnessed a complete absence of exploding power stations – and more than a few red faces in the media. The media backlash against the preceding media hysteria was as vicious as it was hypocritical. But it now seems that we might all have…

Continue Reading

William Vassilis Karageorgos is a research assistant at the IASA inter-university research institute. While pursuing a doctoral degree on High Energy Physics, William has been working on the Applications Database - a service provided by the European Grid Initiative (EGI). This service could help to prevent software decay, so we asked William to give us an overview.

For those of you who are not familiar with it, the Applications Database (or AppDB, as we call it for short) is a service that stores information about tailor-made computing tools, and the programmers and scientists who have developed them. AppDB embraces all scientific fields, from resources to simulate exotic excitation modes in physics, to applications for complex protein sequences analysis. The information stored in the database  is available to everyone. Nearly a year after the project's start-up, and having successfully completed the initial testing phases, we are proud to say that it features complete write access for all registered users, integration with Virtual Organisation data from the EGI Operations Portal, a beta read-only RESTful Web-API, and a demo platform of web widgets.

Storing pre-made applications means that scientists don't have to spend research time developing their own software. Our main aim for AppDB is to avoid duplication of effort across the Distributed Computing Infrastructure (DCI) user communities, and to inspire scientists less familiar with programming into using the European DCI.

Scientists who have developed software and use the system…

Continue Reading