RE: [vre_ig] Re: [vre_ig] Looking for authoritative definitions for VRE,...

22 Feb 2018

Dear all,
I have a simple view to offer and I’m afraid it doesn’t agree with Sandra’s assertion that the terms are all the same!
I prefer to think in terms of the analogous real-world situation where the physical research environment is the place I go to work everyday i.e., my university department with its multiplicity of offices, lecture theatres, laboratories, meeting rooms, etc. Depending upon what I’m doing at any particular time of the day I move around, spending time in one or more of those places – for example, a laboratory where I carry out my experiments, collect my data, etc.
I think the same relation holds between VRE and VLs – the latter is a specialised component of the former. Thus, my perception of a VRE is close to the JISC definition Keith mentions.
My (and my co-authors) definition of VL is close to the Australian one, and you can find it in doi: 10.1186/s12898-016-0103-y is: “… a web-enabled software application that brings the digital, Internet-based data resources (which may include data collections, databases, sensors and/or other instruments) together with processing and analytical tools needed to carry out “in silico” or “e-science” work. As in a real laboratory, the essence of a virtual laboratory is providing the capability to carry out experimental work as a sequence of interconnected work processes i.e., a workflow. Data and tools are combined harmoniously to present a consistent joined-up computer-based work environment to the scientist user. The laboratory keeps track of the details of experiments designed and executed, as well as creating relevant provenance information about the data and tools used; to assist repeatability and replication of results. A virtual laboratory often also incorporates elements to provide assistance and to support collaborations between persons and across teams. These can include sharing and publishing mechanisms for data, experiments and results, as well as supplemental communications capabilities (either built-in or external) for Web-based audio/video conferencing, email and instant messaging, technical training and support. ”
At the beginning of that published definition I said that VL’s are sometimes known as VREs. It was said in recognition that there is this debate about these terms, in case the reader was already familiar with the VRE term, but having thought about it for a couple more years I now believe the terms are distinctly different concepts. I should add also, that just as with physical laboratories, there are multiple classes of VL from very general to highly specialised, and that it’s possible to classify them on multiple dimensions.
I think the ICSG definition of Science Gateway is sufficiently broad that it can be interpreted as both VRE and VL, although I would and have erred towards it being synonymous with the latter.
Just to put the cat among the pigeons: According to the JISC definition, many (European) research infrastructures could be said to be combination physical / virtual i.e., hybrid research environments. They are environments in which scientists work to observe/collect, curate, publish and process data.
I hope this is useful input.
Kind regards
Alex Hardisty Alex Hardisty
Director of Informatics Projects Cyfarwyddwr y Prosiect Gwybodeg
School of Computer Science and Informatics Yr Ysgol Cyfrifiadureg a Gwybodeg
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From: lesley.wyborn=***@***.*** [mailto:***@***.***] On Behalf Of Lesley Wyborn
Sent: 22 February 2018 10:16
To: Sandra Gesing <***@***.***>; ***@***.***; Virtual Research Environment IG (VRE-IG) <***@***.***>
Cc: leonardo.candela <***@***.***>
Subject: Re: [vre_ig] Re: [vre_ig] Looking for authoritative definitions for VRE,...
Dear all
Leo asked for a definition of a VL, so I gave him one from Australia where the term Virtual Laboratory is more widely used.
The term ‘VRE’ is much more common in European, whilst the term ‘Science Gateways’ is more common in the USA.
However, I agree with Sandra.
The last 2 RDA plenaries (Barcelona, Montreal) we have had teams from the US, Australia, and Europe answering questions about how each approach different topics within their respective SG/VL/VREs, and for the most part as Sandra says, we seemed to be describing almost the same thing.
In the end, the consensus was to retain the separate names, because these are in essence the terms by which each are known by the funders/funding schemes in their respective continents of origin. And as we all know, one does not want to cause too much grief for oneself with the funders!
Take care
From: <***@***.***> on behalf of Sandra Gesing <***@***.***>
Date: Thursday, 22 February 2018 at 8:47 pm
To: Keith Jeffrey <***@***.***>, "Virtual Research Environment IG (VRE-IG)" <***@***.***>
Cc: "leonardo.candela" <***@***.***>
Subject: [vre_ig] Re: [vre_ig] Looking for authoritative definitions for VRE, VLab, Science...
Dear Leo, dear Keith,
this is a discussion we haven't solved yet because I think there is a different understanding of VREs/SGs/VLs between the communities. My understanding is that they describe exactly the same systems and not that there are the differences. At least I hope that we get to this understanding instead of searching for distinguishing them from each other.
I hope that helps.
Sandra Gesing
Research Assistant Professor, Department of Computer Science and Engineering
Computational Scientist, Center for Research Computing
University of Notre Dame
On Thu, Feb 22, 2018 at 10:27 AM, ***@***.*** <***@***.***> wrote:
Leo –
For VRE I rely on the JISC definition at and specifically:
“Virtual Research Environments (VREs) start from a similar premise, providing an integrated suite of teaching and learning, and management and administration tools - whilst also including specialist analytical and research tools. As with all new technologies, much of the nature and direction of VREs is continuing to evolve.”
For SG I rely on ICSG: specifically:
“A Science Gateway (or Virtual Research Environment/Virtual Laboratory) is a community-developed set of tools, applications, and data collections that are integrated through a tailored web-based environment. Often Science Gateways leverage larger scale facilities to increase access and enable collaboration. Gateways can be used to tackle common scientific goals as well as offering resources for educating students and informing non-experts.”
For VL it is more difficult. The original concept is defned in Wikipedia but refers to a domain-specific environment, nonetheless it includes a wide range of offerings (including e.g. publications, equipment etc). The Australian VL concept is less broad n some dimensions and equally broad in others.
So for me a VRE is a superset of VL is a superset of SG
Does that help?
Keith G Jeffery Consultants
Prof Keith G Jeffery
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- Show quoted text -From: leonardo.candela=***@***.*** [mailto:leonardo.candela=***@***.***] On Behalf Of leonardo.candela
Sent: 22 February 2018 09:03
To: Virtual Research Environment IG (VRE-IG) <***@***.***>
Subject: [vre_ig] Looking for authoritative definitions for VRE, VLab, Science Gateway, ...
Dear VRE-IG members,
we all know VRE, VLab, Science Gateway are terms often used as synonyms ... this was discussed in the group many times.
I'm wondering whether there is any document / report / paper worth suggesting for definitions on terms including VREs, VLabs, Science Gateways et simila.
Besides definition it will be great if you can provide me with documents aiming at highlighting the differences (if any) among these terms.
Thanks for your support.
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  • Sandra Gesing's picture

    Author: Sandra Gesing

    Date: 22 Feb, 2018

    Dear Alex,
    that is what I meant that the terms are used differently in communities and
    people feel different about the terms VREs/SGs/VLs;-)
    We probably can agree that the goal is almost always the same of such
    systems: to provide the digital working environment needed for
    research/teaching in a way that it makes research and the use of computing
    and data infrastructures easier and more self explanatory under
    consideration of sustainability, reproducibility and usability.
    I certainly agree that different communities connect with each term diverse
    concepts. The question is more whether we would like to work towards
    emphasizing the similarities between the systems. This does not hamper to
    use the different terms and feeds the preferences of communities and
    funding bodies. As Lesley said: funding bodies are important factors in the
    communication and they like to see their naming. But discussions at RDA and
    eResearch Australia between diverse communities elucidated that the goal of
    the systems is almost always the same.
    So my question is more whether it is then important to have different
    definitions or whether it would be beneficial to find a definition all
    communities feel their terms rightly addressed.
    Sandra Gesing
    Research Assistant Professor, Department of Computer Science and Engineering
    Computational Scientist, Center for Research Computing
    University of Notre Dame

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