Building sustainable infrastructure for scholarly communities
Authors: Stadler, Peter / Ferger, Anne
Date: Thursday, 7 September 2023, 2:15pm to 3:45pm
Location: Main Campus, L 1.201 <campus:egXML>
While the long term preservation and availability of research data has already seen some discussion and solutions, the sustainability of research software and research infrastructures is still less discussed. It mostly depends on individual institutions and people that bring together the technical, social, and economic (i.e. funding) requirements. The paper discusses the development of the TEIGarage/MEIGarage and its service availability as a model for sustainable infrastructure in scholarly communities, especially highlighting the need of building communities for and collaborating on maintaining research software infrastructures and the advantages of virtualisation and central deployment.
The popular term of sustainability often means the environmental factor, but there is also economic and social sustainability (see Sverdrup and Svensson 2005 and Venters et al. 2014). Ecological sustainability for research software and infrastructure (e.g. green computing) is recently discussed in the context of Digital Humanities (see Baillot et al.), and while we will not focus on this aspect here, we consider it a crucial aspect. In the context of research software and infrastructure technical sustainability is the most widely discussed factor, but economic/financial and organizational sustainability and funding also play a crucial role. The practical question we want to discuss in this abstract is how the “Garage” infrastructure can be sustained in the best way.
TEIGarage1 and MEIGarage2 (formerly OxGarage) is a long-living software project used in various contexts (see e.g. Stadler et al. 2022). The software offers a framework for community specific data processing.
Allowing for collaboration on the framework as well as on its maintenance and deployment as a service are crucial for tackling the workload in small research communities such as the TEI and MEI communities. With their open and general framework the Garages offer infrastructure for scholarly communities.3 While the Text Encoding Initiative constituted itself as an infrastructure (see Burnard 2013), the Garage framework represents a technical form of infrastructure.
A central deployment of research software offers multiple benefits as opposed to local installations, especially in the light of sustainable and reproducible research. A central low-threshold interface enables scholars without technical expertise to exploit the functionality, e.g. students. By offering a reliable API endpoint further tools can easily build on the services (see e.g. Roma4). One central deployment of the software also ensures the reproducibility of the e. g. conversion which increases the traceability of the research. In the case of TEIGarage and MEIGarage this also means the utilized Guidelines and Stylesheets can be retraced.
But these benefits don’t come without costs. Resources such as hardware and basic software infrastructure are needed for container orchestration and virtualisation, as well as maintainers for the infrastructure. This also means work on the software apart from the code base, but on its virtualisation and containerisation.
To be able to cover these costs as small research communities, forces need to be joined. In the example of the TEIGarage and MEIGarage not only the underlying framework can be reworked collaboratively, also the centralized deployment and virtualisation can be combined. A facilitating factor is the technical sustainability of the code the software is based on. Sustainable code and software does ideally need less resources for maintenance. Measures have been taken for the Garage framework to become more sustainable and FAIR in the sense of Hasselbring et al. (2020), Anzt et al. (2021) and Hong et al. (2022).
In conclusion and from our practical experience, costs (working hours as well as software and hardware costs) need to be shared between small research communities for software to be sustained over a long period of time.
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Stadler, Peter, Ferger, Anne and Röwenstrunk, Daniel (2022) ‘From OxGarage to TEIGarage and MEIGarage’. Available at: https://doi.org/10.5281/ZENODO.7061525</span>.
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About the authors
Anne Ferger 0000-0002-1382-2658 is a Research Associate at the University of Paderborn and University of Duisburg-Essen. Currently she mainly works on sustainable research tools and software development in the context of NFDI4Culture and FAIR research data management at the project MuMoCorp.
Peter Stadler 0000-0002-2544-1481 is a Research Associate at the University of Paderborn. He currently works on the digital edition of Carl Maria von Weber and is a long term enthusiast of both MEI and TEI. He has been a member of the TEI Council for several years.
While this currently means the MEI and TEI communities, there will hopefully be further Garages by further research communities. ↩