Use case

AGINFRA+: Supporting virtual research environments for agriculture and food

Addressing societal challenges and innovating on a global scale requires collaboration by multidisciplinary teams. As the size and complexity of both data and information steadily increase, innovative IT solutions like cloud computing and high-performance computing are necessary to facilitate big data engineering and data science challenges. At present, most research is carried out in relatively closed communities, with data and knowledge being used and reused among a fairly small network of trusted peers.

To advance interdisciplinary science and adopt data science and its many opportunities, researchers from different domains and knowledge networks must connect, collaborate and co-develop more intensely and on a larger scale than ever before. This can be achieved through collaborative working environments that enable remote groups to work together efficiently as a team. Such environments use state-of-the-art ICTs to develop, share and reuse resources and to comply with the requirement to publish and process heterogeneous big data resources.

Our approach: collaborative research in the cloud

In AGINFRA+, WUR and its partners are creating virtual research environments (VREs) that help European and global user communities conduct collaborative research. It is rooted in a cloud-based environment that offers basic cloud services, such as storage and computing, data publication and data access, and collaborative features for communication, project management and monitoring. In addition to this infrastructure, all VREs develop and deploy research workflows that allow communities to co-develop, share and reuse components like data services, scientific models, data analytics and visualisations.

AGINFRA+ has adopted the key concepts and principles of the European Open Science Cloud (EOSC), including the FAIR principles, which state that resources should be findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable. Consequently, the work will evolve in accordance with European strategies and investments with regard to open science.

In AGINFRA+, WUR is taking the lead on virtual research support for the global agro-climatic modelling community. Cloud-based modelling workflows are being developed and deployed to replace those that are currently operated locally. These workflows and their components and data will become accessible and reusable for the European research community. The work connects to national big data developments, as the use case explores simulations in the Dutch context, using and improving for instance the AgroDataCube as an integrated component.

With AGINFRA+ now halfway through the implementation phase, we are seeing the development of infrastructure and research workflows. Various international research communities are developing virtual research support services and exploring different aspects of cloud computing, big data analytics and visualisation. This will be an iterative process, evolving with the further deployment of the EOSC, and will result in a showcase for virtual research to inspire broader exploitation of such environments.

(Expected) impact of the approach

Through the work in AGINFRA+, WUR is at the centre of developments with regard to the evolution of cloud computing and big data analytics in face of future European research in agriculture and food. While various initiatives are in place to secure WUR’s positon in strategic developments and governance relating to EOSC, AGINFRA+ will also ensure a strong link to practical engagement with its operational components in research.

A key asset of VREs is that they are open and accessible to European researchers and that their components and workflows are accessible and reusable by design. The VREs developed in AGINFRA+ will also be a starting point for the further evolution of European data science in the face of the EOSC, allowing researchers and society as a whole to benefit from open science.

Next steps

In the next phase, we will iteratively test and evaluate the developed VRE facilities with the community of researchers around agro-climatic modelling. This will include practical working sessions with users and hackathons to promote further exploitation.

Tools used

  • Virtual Research Environments (D4Science, gCube)
  • AgroDataCube
  • Cloud based Data Analytics (Jupyter Notebooks, RStudio server)
  • Scalable, reactive, application development
  • Microservices, Web Processing Services
  • Container platforms

Cooperation with partners

  • Agroknow, Greece
  • Institute National de la Recherche Agronomique (INRA), France
  • Bundesinstitut fuer Risikobewertung, Germany
  • Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche (CNR) Italy
  • Ethniko Kai Kapodistriako Panepistimio Athinon, Greece
  • Stichting EGI, Netherlands
  • Pensoft Publishers Ltd, Bulgaria