A future for software

Posted by s.hettrick on 1 June 2010 - 3:04pm

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The management, development and curation of robust software are key to research. That is the conclusion of a recent national consultation, undertaken by EPSRC, which gathered researchers’ views of the facilities and services required to conduct high quality research. The creation of the UK’s Software Sustainability Institute (SSI) will fulfil a vital role by co-ordinating how we sustain important research software and make it available for future use.

There is currently no long-term strategy for preserving software tools developed by research projects. Software is often abandoned when a project ends or only maintained on a best effort basis. The goal of the SSI is not simply to make software available, but to make it useful by improving quality, usability and maintenance.

The sustainability of research software requires partnership. Only through close collaboration between software developers and researchers can advances be made both in software development and domain sciences. The SSI will work with the research communities to manage software beyond the lifetime of its original funding, so that it is strengthened, adapted and customised to maximise its value to future generations.

So how will this be achieved? The remit of the SSI is to collaborate with researchers to assist them in building self-sustaining communities around important software. Critically, this enables the development and evolution of the code to be carried out within the environment of the people who use it. A wide range of disciplines will benefit from the SSI’s work, with early projects addressing climate change, nuclear fusion and medical imaging. The SSI will work with organisations across the research spectrum: giving free information, tools and guidance through its website to promote best practice; providing specialist effort to groups via short collaborative projects; and seeking additional funding to partner on longer projects and support major development in a sustainable way.

Software does not sit alone. The SSI will work closely with groups such as the UK NGS, European Grid Infrastructure (EGI), PRACE and OSS-Watch to ensure that we enhance the sustainability potential of key software products.

The SSI is supported by a five year, £4.2 million grant from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). It will be led by Neil Chue Hong who will return to the University of Edinburgh, after two and a half years as Director of OMII-UK based at the University of Southampton.