Page 28 - FCW, February 2016
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Highlights from a recent Webcast on Data Sharing
The NIH is making multiple databases available in a common cloud environment to meet its goals of saving money, sustaining the digital ecosystem and creating reproducible healthcare data.
Efforts to support data-sharing, inspire new research and drive cost savings have converged at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Those combined goals have driven the NIH to create the electronic Research Administration’s Commons. This initiative is an online interface where eligible individuals and organizations can access and share information on research grants.
The Commons initiative is really about sustaining the digital ecosystem in biomedical research and health care amid flat budgets and skyrocketing numbers of biological databases, says Philip Bourne, associate director for data science at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), during a Dec. 10, 2015, Webcast titled “Big Data: Leveraging the Power of the Cloud.”
At a fundamental level, the Commons takes big data from myriad resources and databases and makes
it available in a single cloud space.
It treats research materials, such as data, software, methods and papers, as digital resource objects. They exist in a shared virtual space according to FAIR principles, which means they are findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable.
The Commons framework uses the cloud for several significant reasons. The cloud platform is scalable, provides physical and logical access to data, simplifies that access, makes
digital research objects indexable and findable, provides understanding and accounting of usage patterns, and gives currency to digital objects and the people who develop and support them.
“By identifying such objects and characterizing them and cataloging them through these indexing engines, we can start giving credence to these objects,” says Bourne. “It actually has the potential of at least [making] inroads to the most difficult problem of all, which is to change the culture around how we compute and on what we compute.”
The framework is straightforward. It consists of a cloud or high-performance computing (HPC) platform, reference or user-defined data, and software services
and tools. These include an app store, user interface, scientific analysis, workflows, application programming interfaces, indexing and containers. “This is a fairly standard architecture organization,” says Bourne.
The Commons initiative is still in the first of several planned phases. Future phases will involve establishing community-based unique digital object identifiers, conforming to community- approved standard metadata for enhanced search, and digital objects accessible via open standards application programming interfaces (APIs).
The initial plan is to run pilots and evaluate the effectiveness of this kind of environment, says Bourne. One pilot
The NIH’s Research Administration’s Commons initiative aims to provide an online interface for data sharing among grant applicants, grantees and federal staff at NIH, and grantor agencies. For objects to be included in Commons, they must:
Have unique digital object identifiers that can resolve to an original authoritative source
Be machine-readable
Have a minimal set of searchable metadata
Be physically available in a cloud-based Commons provider Have clear access rules
Have an entry (with metadata) in one or more indices

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