The Jisc Software Hub

Author: Mario Antonioletti
Posted: 6 Jun 2013 | 10:20

In my Software Sustainability Institute role here at EPCC, together with Neil Chue Hong and Arno Proeme, I have been working on a Jisc-funded project that is attempting to create a Software Hub for Jisc.

What is the Jisc Software Hub? Well, it serves two purposes: it attempts to catalogue all the existing software that Jisc has funded over the last decade or so and it will also try to promote some of this software to encourage uptake within the UK academic community and further afield. This is a Jis-funded pilot project to establish the feasibility/cost/value of such work and based on that a decision will be made on how to progress this and whether other organisations may join in this effort. Jisc is keen for other funding councils to join in this undertaking, instead of building their own Software Hub.

We are working on this project with colleagues from the OSS Watch based at Oxford University. Our role has been to define the metadata that will be used in the Software Catalogue to describe any software outputs that have been produced. Jisc already tracks the projects it has funded through a public website called PIMS (Programme Information Management System) but, although this records the outputs from projects (including software), the main purpose is to track the projects themselves and not necessarily the outputs that have been generated. In particular, in trying to populate the software catalogue we have had to supplement and validate the information available in PIMS to adequately describe any software that has been produced. Moreover the information stored in PIMS spans at least 10 years of funded project work. Within that period of time people move on, institutional websites may have changed a number of times and operating systems and published APIs change. So it is not always easy to track down the software outputs that we are interested in, and if they can be traced it does not necessarily mean that they will still work.  

Regardless, there are some jewels in the crown that have survived and that are heavily used. Think of Jisc as venture capitalists - they invest in a number of projects hoping that some of these will deliver a golden egg, and some do. The Software Hub will thus provide a means of (privately) cataloguing the software outputs produced by Jisc-funded projects and the golden eggs will be displayed in a showcase website which is part of the Software Hub. This will describe in detail the software outputs that we think could be useful to various communities out there. We also aim to have pre-installed versions of various software packages in virtual machines that people can download and try out.

We have now gone through a number of iterations of the metadata that we think will be necessary to describe the software outputs. A Drupal-based implementation of the Software Hub is being developed by our Oxford colleagues. We are currently populating this instance with updated information from PIMS and a working prototype is expected by the end of the year. We are also producing recommendations for Jisc on how, in the future, we can ensure that the software it funds does not get lost. Also how the Software Hub might become a mechanism around which communities can be built to make Jisc-funded software more sustainable once the funding is over. 

Arno, Neil and I will continue to blog about this project as it evolves towards its completion by the end of October 2013.

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