e-Research Centre breaks new ground

UCT has taken the lead on the African continent in establishing an eResearch Centre to ensure that the university can continue to operate as a top research institution in the age of big data.

According to Professor Danie Visser, Deputy Vice-Chancellor with responsibility for research at UCT, research today is fast becoming inconceivable without adequate eResearch infrastructure – information and communication technology (ICT) assets, facilities, skills and services – to support it. “Universities without an equipping strategy may continue to perform, but only for a time. As research changes, all support areas serving research must keep up to stay relevant. Without change, there is a risk that service areas will provide yesterday’s solutions,” he says.

UCT approved the establishment of an eResearch Centre in March 2014. The centre will support and enhance the university’s research capabilities sustainably. A large component of the eResearch strategy at UCT revolves around ICT. Researchers in many fields rely increasingly on ICT as a component of their research, with requirements ranging from support for data management strategies and data-centric architectures to access to specific tools and software for data analysis. Technology is also accelerating the pace and scale of research, with large-scale data requiring a more structured approach to data management and storage. New and more powerful instruments are required: digital recognition of text, speech and imagery, and facilitating crowdsourcing and citizen science.

“We are seeing three major drivers for the ICT change programme, influenced by both global challenges and our own local challenges,” says Sakkie Janse van Rensburg, executive director of Information and Communication Technology Services (ICTS) at UCT. “We want to deliver more, which will require a new organisational structure and roles; we want to deliver the right thing, which means more focus on governance; and we want to deliver it in the right way, which means we need to improve our internal processes to help researchers conduct research faster and more cost-effectively. The concept of eResearch explores the question of how we can, with the latest tools, technologies and approaches, strengthen that research workflow or pipeline of ‘conceive – design – explore – analyse – collaborate – publish – expose’.”

For several years now, ICTS has been delivering eResearch support through the establishment of an HPC (high performance computing) cluster that supports advanced research computing. Janse van Rensburg says that, in 2013 alone, more than 155 researchers across campus were supported, and they submitted more than 270 000 jobs requiring HPC facilities. The computing time for that year added up to more than two million hours.

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