Craig Robson – Newcastle University

Craig Robson

Craig Robson

Image: Newcastle bridges

I first got involved with DAFNI when it was first proposed in 2017, initially around deploying some of my research onto DAFNI, including NISMOD-DB++, the first database for national infrastructure for the UK, and integrating this as part of the data management structure and architecture on the platform.

NISMOD-DB++, originally developed as part of the Infrastructure Transitions Research Consortium (ITRC) programme provided a novel database framework and solution for data and is very different architecturally from what’s come before, making it more flexible and scalable for handling diverse sets of data as used across infrastructure research.

It uses new database storage methods, new software developments, and couples different database systems together through a federated database architecture, delivering optimal methods for storing and serving data for users. This allows it to ingest and analyse the bigger datasets required for the increasingly fine-scale analysis being undertaken in infrastructure research, such as through the developed NISMOD (National Infrastructure Systems MODel) tool, also developed in the ITRC project.

Since then my involvement has changed and evolved, and now includes loading and running models on to DAFNI and not just focusing on the underlying infrastructure.

There was a real need for DAFNI so that there was somewhere for researchers in the infrastructure field to host their models, code and data without worrying about the hardware it’s running on, and somewhere that would be there for the long term. DAFNI solves issues commonly encountered in research across academia such as the short-term nature of grant funding making it difficult in some cases to support the use of developed models and outputs beyond the lifespan of the initial project. DAFNI brings that long-term security for data and models, facilitating the potential for greater impact from projects.

A number of my colleagues at Newcastle University are also now using and supporting DAFNI. Dr Luke Smith is a lecturer in Data-Centric Civil Engineering and a member of the DAFNI Executive Board. Dr Fergus McLean is a research associate and works with myself and Luke on the OpenCLIM project (Open Climate Impacts Modelling Framework), which is setting out to design and develop a framework for a new integrated UK assessment of climate risk and adaptation, ultimately to be hosted on DAFNI. The university is also involved from the perspective of our work around Urban Observatories and visualisation, with the Newcastle Urban Observatory team working closely with DAFNI on developing the capabilities of DAFNI to host real-time data.

With the previously mentioned OpenCLIM project, being undertaken by a consortium from the Tyndall Centre, we are using the DAFNI platform to develop a framework for future climate change assessments for the UK which can be used by organisations and government departments such as the Climate Change Committee (CCC) and Department for Environment and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). DAFNI enables us to share that framework, the models and the data on a platform so that there’s one place where everyone can access tools, models, data, outputs and visualisations. The role myself and Fergus have is focused on developing the framework itself in collaboration with the developers at DAFNI, while we work with other teams responsible for developing the individual models to integrate these into the framework.

There is potential for OpenCLIM to use other models already running on DAFNI, or the data outputs from these models, such as the NISMOD model. The DAFNI platform makes this sort of data and model sharing much easier than otherwise possible.

As well as being a platform for hosting models, DAFNI also provides a wide range of datasets, hosted on the platform itself, allowing users to quickly search and access these datasets from a single location rather than from multiple locations as may have been the case previously.

If DAFNI wasn’t available we would have had to look at using other services or facilities, for example cloud processing services such as Amazon Web Services (AWS) or Azure, to host the work in OpenCLIM. This would offer extra challenges without the direct working relationship we are able to build with the DAFNI team who can offer support and training when needed.

 As more users, researchers, utilities, government departments and the like become involved with DAFNI, the greater the potential for the success of the platform. As a platform enabling collaborative working and sharing of research, by its nature, the more people who engage and use DAFNI, the stronger it can become. DAFNI is still being developed with functionality being added to the existing platform to further support researchers and users, further strengthening its potential and further seeding it as a key resource for researchers and other users.

 The DAFNI team are very helpful in supporting users and open to ideas for new or improved features while also open to collaborating with others on new projects.


Interested in collaborating with DAFNI?

If you would be interested in using DAFNI, would like to access Data on DAFNI or involve us in a new project, we would like to hear from you.  Please complete your details on the contact form using the link and we will be in contact with you by email.

21st January 2021