Easy, fast, accessible, and secure research data management

News - 02 November 2023

The vast amount of data being generated by researchers nowadays creates challenges when it comes to research data management. Things like storage, security, sharing, and automation can be slow, complicated, and even risky. So, what if there was a better way to manage research data? A team at TU Delft’s Library and ICT is running a pilot project based on the open-source software called iRODS that promises to improve storage and security, make data more accessible, aid with metadata development and more.

Integrated Rule-Oriented Data Management System

When it comes to data management, researchers often encounter issues like data loss due to insufficient backups, confusion around metadata, and concerns over the safety of confidential data. Although tools have been developed to try and overcome problems like these, there is room for something more comprehensive. Data Management Specialist Fardad Maghsoudi Moud on the TU Delft Library team that is integrating a set of tools to make research data management easier, faster, and better.

The project is based on the Integrated Rule-Oriented Data Management System (iRODS), an open-source platform for sharing data in a secure, faster way. “It’s becoming popular due to the advantages it has compared to current or older packages, which are mostly commercial,” said Maghsoudi Moud. Those advantages include things like data virtualisation, the ability to enforce data policies, scalability and performance for large-scale data environments, robust metadata management, customisation, and integration capabilities.

User-friendly coding with ManGO

However, iRODS still involves a command window, the black page where code is required, which can be difficult for non-experts. “We have upgraded with a user-friendly web-based interface called ManGO which makes it much easier for any user, especially those scientists or PhD researchers that hate to code.” Coding commands have been replaced by a simple drag and drop function to upload data files. The combination of iRODS, empowered by ManGO, and the ability to host big data/large-scale projects with SURF aims to provide a better data management package for researchers at TU Delft.

Preparing for large amount of data and diverse users

Developed by a team at KU Leuven, ManGO enables researchers to store, describe, automate, and share their research data in a secure and efficient way. The tool was shared with TU Delft, but some work is needed to run it seamlessly in the TU Delft environment. “There are still some bugs that we need to work out,” said Maghsoudi Moud. “We needed a trial or a client to start using our system and also help us identify the problems.” To achieve this, the team has been working with DAPWell, a geothermal energy project at TU Delft that generates an immense amount of different types of data. The project is a promising case to learn from as it involves data being collected, uploaded, downloaded, processed, and used by technicians, engineers, data stewards, data managers, graduate and undergraduate students, Ph.D. candidates, postdoctoral researchers, and professors. 

Access to data is fully customisable

Although the tool is currently only accessible to data stewards, future plans involve giving researchers the ability to upload and manage data. That means in the future, data stewards will play more of a support role. And there are some serious advantages that come with the iRODS ManGO system. One of them is that access to data is fully customisable, meaning it’s easy to determine which users get certain levels of access. With public drives or the cloud there may be security and accessibility issues. But with this comprehensive system, individual users or groups can be assigned credentials that allow them to download data anytime or anyplace using a secure two-factor authentication process.

Support on metadata and FAIR principles

Another major advantage of the pilot system has to do with metadata. For example, iRODS ManGO can create labels for each instrument and data set, can provide further information like statistical analysis, and can create a README file to help keep track of data. Data can be viewed without downloading and the system also has the capability of real-time synchronising. Ultimately, all these things follow and support the FAIR (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, and Reusable) regulations. “This helps you, your colleagues, and others in future to understand what is happening with the data,” said Maghsoudi Moud. “All of these advantages make it easier to manage projects and collaborations.”

Future plans

The team potentially extended additional funding to work on the issue of storage, which is a big challenge at TU Delft. A little over halfway through the one-year pilot, they are happy with what they have achieved so far. The success has prompted plans of making iRODS a long-term platform for TU Delft. Maghsoudi Moud says they have received a lot of support from ICT, the Library, and faculties which has created momentum. “I look forward to collaborating with more clients and users,” he said. “If anyone needs to manage data, it doesn't matter whether it's about labelling, storage, security, really anything - come to us and we will give you access to ManGO with as much storage as you need.”