ORDS version 1.0.2 released

We’ve just released version 1.0.2 of the ORDS. This fixes a number of issues with the initial launch release, in particular enabling self-referencing tables and removing the maximum length of queries that could be saved as datasets. The full change-list is as follows:

  • Fixed typos in schema designer
  • Projects now being dynamically assigned to servers properly
  • Schema now saves first time after new table is added in schema designer (provided the schema is valid)
  • Invalid characters in database table names or field names are now replaced with underscores upon import
  • Null values no longer appear in the breadcrumb trail
  • Fixed display of breadcrumb trail in query interface
  • Improved presentation of trial project messages
  • False ‘success’ messages removed from query interface
  • Fixed ‘clear query’ functionality in query interface
  • Query results can now be sorted even if an ‘order by’ statement was included in the query
  • Order of fields in ‘add new record’ form now matches that in the editing interface
  • Self-referencing tables now permitted
  • Imported .csv files now have a proper heading for their unique ID fields
  • Issue with upper-case characters in reference fields resolved
  • Query builder can now be used by project ‘viewers’
  • Attempting to register twice with the same email addresses now generates an error message
  • Queries longer than 255 character can now be saved as datasets
  • An error message is now generated if users omit a description when creating a new database
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ORDS launches!

We are pleased to announce the launch of the ‘Online Research Database Service’ (ORDS). The ORDS is a free, centrally-supported, online service where researchers can create, edit, search and share their research data. The service is open to all research staff and postgraduate research students at the University of Oxford, plus their collaborators. Users can upload existing databases and spreadsheets into the ORDS, or create new databases from scratch. Different project members can be assigned different levels of permission, to ensure that only those people who ought to be able to edit the data can do so, whilst others can see and query the data that is already there. Data can be exported from the ORDS into almost all popular data analysis software. The ORDS comes with its own online viewing, editing, and querying interfaces, but the data in ORDS can also be accessed via custom-built websites or popular database management software.

The ORDS was developed by staff at University of Oxford IT Services and all data in the service is hosted within the University. If you are looking for a straightforward and secure platform on which to develop and share a research database, go to http://ords.ox.ac.uk for more information about the service and instructions on how to register.

The ORDS will be offered initially as mediated service. Any University of Oxford researcher can register and try out a limited version of the ORDS, but you will need to get in touch with the service team before accessing the full service. This is to ensure that the ORDS can indeed meet your research requirements and to get a sense of how it will be used.

The ORDS is likely to be of interest to you if:

  • You are building a database of research information, especially if you are doing so as part of a team
  • You want to share an existing database with colleagues or the wider research community
  • You would like to developed a database in a free and non-proprietary format
  • You would like to be able to publish subsets of a database that underpin research articles
  • You want somewhere to host a database that can be used as the back-end to a research website

The ORDS is not intended for:

  • ‘big data’ databases, of over 10 GB or so
  • Highly sensitive non-anonymized data

We will seek to develop the ORDS to cater for users with such data in future and continue to improve the service in response to user feedback.

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ORDS New Year Update 2014

A very happy New Year from the ORDS development team!

The last months of 2013 were a busy period for the ORDS team, as we set about adding the remaining ‘core’ user functionality and beginning user testing in earnest. The ‘sandbox’ ORDS was put through its paces on the 2nd December by twelve of our early adopters, plus Professor Paul Jeffreys, the project director. Fortunately the feedback was largely positive and most of the issues that our testing team encountered were things that we already suspected might raise eyebrows. Nevertheless the session was very useful in terms of confirming the improvements we need to make to usability in order to turn the ORDS into a genuinely intuitive research database tool. An overview of the workshop is available from the project website.

January 2014 sees a few changes regarding how the development of the ORDS will be organized, ahead of the full launch later in the year. Our lead developer, David Paine, now drops down to working three days a week on the project, but we welcome to the development team Kristian Kocher, who along with David will be working on the integration of the ORDS with the University’s Single-Sign-On mechanism, the automated back-ups, and the behind-the-scenes work to ensure that the ORDS can be supported as a service by the SysDev team at IT Services into the future. Without this work the ORDS will be difficult to update and maintain, essential for a service that needs to be sustainable in a cost-effective manner. We will also be consulting with PwC to ensure the system is fully secure.

Work on user-facing functionality will not stop: we are currently working to improve sorting and filtering, and we will be fully integrating the schema designer with the rest of the ORDS over the next few months. We’ve also got plenty of known bugs to work through, and I’m sure our early adopters will be able to identify more. Our technical writer, Meriel Patrick, is working on the user documentation and help files for the ORDS.

I am currently in the process of determining the administrative aspects of how the ORDS will be supported and offered to our researchers, including reviewing our options with regards to how it can be sustained financially. I’ll be posting more on this in due course, but at present we are considering how the service may be charged (at a reasonable price) to funding agencies in cases where research projects are bidding for external funds.

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ORDS demonstration video

Although the ORDS and the Database-as-a-Service software underpinning it are still very much in development, we have put together a 20-minute video illustrating some of the key features of the software in its current form. We hope to start user testing shortly.

In response to feedback, I should note the following:

It really is still in development – we are aware that lots of things don’t quite work yet or are poorly presented.

If you wish to select multiple fields in the query builder, as in the demo, you need to hold down the ‘ctrl’ key.

We’re still working on billing and cost models for the ORDS at Oxford – nothing is set in stone yet regarding how this will work. The forms may look quite different in future.

Data exports will include field names (column headings) – we’ll be fixing that shortly

Besides uploading existing Access database, .csv files (such as spreadsheets exported in this format) can also be uploaded.

A list of know issues with the system as it currently stands can be found at http://code.google.com/p/ords/issues/list.

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The ORDS Uptake Project Commences

The ORDS Uptake Project is now underway. This JISC/HEFCE-funded project will encourage uptake of the Online Research Database Service amongst researchers at the University of Oxford, and adapt the open-source ‘Database as a Service’ (DaaS) software that underpins the ORDS so that similar services can be deployed at other Universities, and maybe even at the national level via a commercial cloud provider.

The ORDS will enable researchers to create, edit, and share databases of research online. The system makes it easy to add and edit data collaboratively and will in due course enable the publication of sub-sets of research databases to support articles. The system is linked to central back-up and archiving systems to meet the data security and preservation requirements of funders.

An important aspect of the project is establishing what our next set of development priorities needs to be once we’ve finished the job of migrating the DaaS software produced during the VIDaaS Project to its new platform-independent form. By working with researchers and other institutions we hope to get a clearer picture of what our users want, and also to get a better sense of what kinds of business models will be viable in practice to bring the service to a sustainable state.

Thanks to the new funding from the Universities Modernisation Fund we will be able to offer early adopters within Oxford the ORDS for free for a while. This is on a first come, first served basis. If you would potentially be interested in using the ORDS for your research and providing us with suggestions for improvements, please send an email to ords@it.ox.ac.uk. We will be happy to talk through your research needs with you to make sure that the ORDS is indeed appropriate.

If you are involved in establishing an infrastructure for research data management at another UK university, we’d be interesting in collaborating with you to better understand how we would need to adapt the software to meet your needs. Again, drop us an email at ords@it.ox.ac.uk.

The ORDS Uptake Project runs until the end of July, 2013.

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