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This chapter discusses the role that virtual research environments play in bringing together researchers and resources needed in virtual environments underpinned by e-Infrastructures.


e-Research is, by definition, a collaborative activity that combines the abilities of distributed groups of researchers in order to achieve research goals that individual researchers or local groups could not hope to accomplish. Very often, e-Research is also multidisciplinary, spanning not only geographical and organisational boundaries but also disciplinary ones. There is hardly any kind of research that does not make use of electronic resources of one kind or other and in some disciplines ICTs play such a central role that without them, the advancement of research would not be possible.

The notion of a virtual research environment has gained prominence in the e‑Research community (Fraser 2005, Borda et al . 2006). For all practical puposes, the term is synonymous with other concepts such as collaboratories, cyberenvironments or science gateways that are used in the US and elsewhere ( cf. Olson, Zimmerman and Bos 2008, Wilkins-Diehr 2007). The aim of a VRE is to provide an integrated environment that supports the work of a community of collaborating researchers. That is, a VRE brings together previously separate tools needed for conducting the research and for collaboration , support for which is increasingly recognised as an integral aspect of researchers’ work rather than something that can be added on as an afterthought.

Providing rich functionality

Behind the scenes, a VRE makes use of a set of services proving secure access to various kinds of resources such as datasets, large-scale storage facilities and computational facilities for execution of scientific codes. The resources used are distributed, they are provided by different organisations and under different policies governing their usage. Therefore, the infrastructure needs to support their management by providing, for example, appropriate authentication and authorisation mechanisms to ensure that only authorised individuals access files and that computational resources are accessed with the correct credentials. During the execution of a scientific application, intermediate data and runtime information is created that may be retained to provide a provenance record and simulation outputs are stored in a storage system. For example, researchers might want to:

  • authenticate using an authentication service,
  • communicate and collaborate with colleagues,
  • transfer data,
  • configure a resource,
  • invoke a computation,
  • re-use data and give credit to the original producer,
  • archive output data and runtime data,
  • publish outputs, both informally through blogs or wikis and formally through conference or journal papers,
  • discover what resources are available,
  • monitor the state of a resource or process,
  • maintain awareness of who is currently doing what,
  • find out where particular data has come from and how it was processed ( provenance ),
  • find out who has access to a resource and what they can do with it ( authentication and authorisation ).

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Source:  OpenStax, Research in a connected world. OpenStax CNX. Nov 22, 2009 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col10677/1.12
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