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Home > iSGTW 24 March 2010 > Feature - Grant ensures sustainable future for software

Feature - Grant ensures sustainable future for software

HECToR, seen here, is the UK’s national supercomputer service, and is run by an organization called the EPCC.  Image courtesy HECToR

A Software Sustainability Institute (SSI)  has just been established, with the aid of a grant of £4.2 million (roughly about 6.4 million US Dollars, or 4.7 million Euros, as of press time) from the UK’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, or EPSRC.

Software was highlighted as a key facility needed for high quality research, in a recent study.

A team of academics and software engineers based at the University of Southampton’s School of Electronics and Computer Science, the Department of Computer Science at the University of Manchester, and led by the EPCC at the University of Edinburgh, will work in partnership with the research community to manage software beyond the lifetime of its original funding, so that it is strengthened, adapted and customized to maximize its value to future generations of researchers.

“The issue at the moment is that there are no coordinated ways of sustaining important research software once it comes to the end of its funding,” said Neil Chue Hong, director of the SSI and OMII-UK. “Some software gets abandoned when the project ends. Some systems are maintained in pockets on very much a best-effort basis rather than on the basis of any longer-term strategy.”

Established in 1583, the University of Edinburgh is one of the UK's most historic institutions of higher education. Image courtesy

Solving a problem

Chue Hong and his collaborators will work with 30-40 groups across the UK, providing the expertise needed to create self-sustaining communities of researchers around important software. It is these communities that will ensure the software’s future by keeping it up-to-date and developing it to meet new requirements.

A wide range of disciplines are set to benefit from the SSI’s work, with early projects encompassing climate change, nuclear fusion and medical imaging.

The SSI will collaborate with key researchers to identify and shape the software which is considered by its community to be the most important for research. Strategies for sustaining software will be optimized, and the best methods will be communicated to researchers through SSI consultancy. This work will help to stop the decay of software. “The creation of the SSI will ensure that important software is sustained so that it can continue to contribute towards high quality research,” said Chue Hong.

The EPSRC is the main UK government agency for funding research and training in engineering and the physical sciences, investing more than £850 million a year (about 1.3 billion US dollars, or 958 millions Euros) in a broad range of subjects, from mathematics to materials science, and from information technology to structural engineering.

—Dan Drollette, iSGTW


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