It is not uncommon for us to get requests from researchers for the setup of databases. Especially when such requests relate to unfunded research, we have often had to decline them. As a result, a number of research datasets have remained unpublished.
The problem of not having the resources to provide bespoke technical solutions to every research project that applies for our help is not unique to St Andrews. But then, not every project requires a bespoke solution. Over the past years Oxford University IT Services undertook the VIDaaS (Virtual Infrastructure with Database as a Service) project to develop a technical solution that allows researchers to build and publish online database quickly and without the need for programming skills.
VIDaaS runs on the DaaS (Database as a Service) software also developed by Oxford. DaaS is an online solution that provides users with a WYSIWIG (what you see is what you get) interface. DaaS allows for version-control and, if necessary, it permits users to make changes to the database schema via a drag and drop mechanism. There is no need to make any modifications to srcipts or user interfaces that normally become necessary as a result of a change to the database schema. These changes will be undertaken automatically by the DaaS software when the database schema is changed.
Oxford has been working at DaaS to support different types of database, including relational databases, XML databases and document databases. Plans also included the ablitiy to upload MS Access databases and for DaaS to convert these into online PostgeSQL databases.
DaaS supports various levels of access restriction to the data. The ability to support institutional single sign-on mechanisms is being developed. Several members of research groups can be given permission to modify the project database.
The VIDaaS project came to an end in 2012, and since then Oxford University IT Services has migrated the DaaS software to a more secure technical environment.
The Online Research Database Service (ORDS) that is currently under development uses and builds on the outcome of the VIDaaS project. Oxford University IT Services is currently undertaking an ORDS maturity project with a view to both supporting researchers at Oxford and making the DaaS software available to other institutions. As part of the ORDS maturity project the Research Computing Service will be looking at the software and its features with a view to investigating the feasibility of providing the ORDS locally to researchers within the University of St Andrews.