An exposure draft for the Government’s national research infrastructure roadmap could be out within weeks, and the hope in some quarters is that it provides a mandate for change.

The Department of Education and Training began consulting in July via a capability issues paper, which – among other things – canvassed for opinions on how to “optimise” Australia’s existing compute investments for the research community.

That process received 325 written submissions, which will – to some extent – influence the direction of the exposure draft. Further consultation will be required before the roadmap is finalised.

Some of those behind government-funded eResearch resources hope the exposure draft will enable them to change how they operate, though they have already started that process as far as their existing remits allow.

University of Melbourne Associate Professor Glenn Moloney, who is also director of the NeCTAR research cloud, told Information Age that the exposure draft is “expected to provide some additional guidance based on the consultations and responses to the issues paper that emerged.”

“I think [eResearch resource operators] are essentially relying on the roadmap issues paper to give us some guidance from the sector,” Moloney said.

One thing that many hope the draft will enable is some form of central governance to be established across the various government-funded eResearch resources.

In addition to NeCTAR, these include the Australian National Data Service (ANDS) and Research Data Services (RDS).

For many researchers that created complexity in having to engage with multiple services to stitch together an environment that would enable their research.

“What’s emerged out of the roadmap is a strong sense that the eResearch investments are complex,” Moloney said.

“I think there was a clear appetite for improved streamlining or consolidation of those eResearch investments to simplify the eResearch landscape and engagement by the sector.

“To actually create infrastructure of value to institutions and research communities it was often necessary to engage with multiple capabilities to access the resources that you required - cloud computing from NeCTAR, data storage and services through RDS, and then data discoverability services and accessibility from ANDS.

“While valued by the sector, there was complexity in having to engage with so many platforms to try and create a synthesis of that capability to support research.”

The sector knew this, and has been taking action of its own. Last month, NeCTAR, ANDS and RDS revealed plans to create closer alignment between the resources – as much as possible within their existing remits – to enable better research outcomes.

But they also hope the NRI roadmap will enable them to go further.

“I think there’s a strong view from the sector that the best alignment would be some kind of common governance on the projects, potentially even common delivery,” Moloney said.

“But those things are being tested and there will be continuing consultation with the sector and discussion to work out what the appropriate way of improving the alignment of those capabilities is.”

While the current arrangement hasn’t been an inhibitor to growth and adoption of the eResearch services, Moloney’s view is that better alignment will lead to even higher usage.

“It would be our view, and I think for example this is shared by RDS, that more streamlined ability to access allocations of storage through the RDS storage nodes and the cloud computing capability would lead to more uptake,” Moloney said.

“While there’s been strong growth and uptake of [NeCTAR’s] cloud, we certainly get feedback from people that there are some limits on uptake just because of the complexities of getting access to storage and compute in the cloud.

“Clearly, improved alignment of compute and storage would be valuable for the future.”