Creating a federated, cloud-based trusted research environment to facilitate collaborative research between existing institutions

A DARE UK Sprint Exemplar Project

A significant practical barrier to research collaboration is the fact that the needs of every team are subtly different. Each researcher has different expertise, access to different local digital infrastructure and, particularly when handling sensitive data, different ethics and governance arrangements which need to be adhered to. This problem is amplified when talking about collaboration internationally.

This project aimed to document use cases covering the main barriers faced by research collaborations in this space, and then show how they can be met using cloud-based data technologies (technologies which are accessible via a secure internet connection rather than locally).

The project team’s vision for the next generation of trusted research environments (TREs) is a service which works for the majority of researchers, the majority of the time. The project demonstrated a move away from previous concepts of independent, inflexible research environments built around a single dataset – or the needs of a single institute. It demonstrated a move towards a distributed ‘data fabric’ – in other words, an infrastructure which provides the ‘glue’ to enable existing TREs to work together and be quickly and simply provisioned based around the exact needs of a given research collaboration.

The key innovations this project addressed are:

  • Moving to a ‘compute in situ’ model, away from the current trend of ‘download and compute elsewhere’ which dominates many existing TRE infrastructures
  • Providing standardised services for processes such as research access management
  • Providing ‘out of the box’ solutions to accelerate the creation and management of international, multi-party research teams, guaranteeing compliance with national data protection legislation
  • Providing a bridge between academia, public sector bodies and industry
  • Resolving inequality of access to computing and storage environments across the research ecosystem, allowing contribution by talent rather than wealth of institution.

Principal investigator: James Fleming, The Francis Crick Institute

Project partners: The Francis Crick Institute, BT, The Institute of Cancer Research, and The Rosalind Franklin Institute

Funded amount: £205,948