Digital research infrastructure

Digital research infrastructure underpins the research and innovation ecosystem and is a critical system for researchers, policymakers and innovators.

It enables researchers, policy makers and innovators to solve problems, and to analyse and understand complex topics on any subject, including:

  • physics
  • biology
  • our bodies
  • the environment
  • our own behaviour.

This is possible because digital research infrastructure allows us to work with data and computation efficiently and securely, at scale.

What is digital research infrastructure

The building blocks of the digital research infrastructure system include:

  • large scale compute facilities, including high-throughput, high-performance, and cloud computing
  • data storage facilities, repositories, stewardship and security
  • software and shared code libraries
  • mechanisms for access, such as networks and user authentication systems
  • people: the users, and the experts who develop and maintain these powerful resources.

UK Research and Innovation’s (UKRI) vision

Our vision is a coherent state-of-the-art national digital research infrastructure that will seamlessly connect researchers, policy makers and innovators to the computers, data, tools, techniques and skills that underpin the most ambitious and creative research.

Our vision for a national digital research infrastructure is guided by the following principles.

We will:

  • be driven by the ambition of UKRI’s diverse communities
  • provide a federated system of digital research infrastructure that provides both a breadth and depth of capabilities and skills
  • build a digital research infrastructure to catalyse breakthroughs and accelerate innovation
  • accelerate productivity by enabling appropriately secure and easy access through common access procedures and authorisation technologies
  • understand the environmental impacts of our investments and make changes to improve our sustainability that contribute to the UK’s commitment to net zero
  • work with partners to maximise the value from our investments
  • think and plan on a long-term horizon to evolve the UKRI’s digital research infrastructure in the context of other government investments and strategies in this space.

Achieving our vision

We will achieve our vision by evolving existing infrastructures to support new communities of practice and, subject to funding, by investing in new capabilities to enable researchers to turn data into knowledge.

Our constituent councils are working together to create a federated, interoperable, interdisciplinary portfolio of digital research infrastructure to serve the UK’s researchers and innovators. Our activities will focus on five inter-related thematic areas.

Data infrastructure

We will deliver the data storage and data services infrastructure, and the policies needed to extract maximal value from all forms of data sets from:

  • science
  • medicine
  • arts and humanities
  • the environment
  • society.

Large-scale computing

Our ambition is to provide by 2025 a world-class large-scale national supercomputing infrastructure, encompassing high-throughput, high-performance, and cloud computing.

This will include working towards an exascale capability, to push the frontiers of data-intensive research through modelling, simulation and analysis.

Secure services and tools for sensitive data

We will work with partners to provide highly secure data services for sensitive data, for example Trusted Research Environments. Examples of sensitive data include personally identifiable or commercial data.

We will also deliver the appropriate tools for researchers, innovators and decision-makers to:

  • accelerate public benefit
  • maintain public trust in research using sensitive data.

Skills and career pathways

We will invest in people to widen the breadth and depth of skills needed for:

  • the new digital research infrastructure
  • the adoption of modern digital techniques.

We will support the development of career paths for digital research infrastructure professionals that are:

  • rewarding
  • sustainable
  • flexible.

Foundational tools, techniques and practices

To support foundational tools, techniques and practices we will:

  • provide the underpinning network and administrative infrastructure
  • facilitate the uptake of good practices and knowledge transfer
  • support the development and maintenance of software that is required to deliver the national digital research infrastructure.

Our progress so far

We have embarked on the first phase of developing a national digital research infrastructure in the 2021 to 2022 financial year, with £17 million invested in a portfolio of interventions. These are to enhance our existing digital infrastructures and initial investments in priority areas, such as trusted research environments and net zero digital infrastructures.

Here are some examples of work happening in the first phase:

  • scoping studies to inform the evolution of existing infrastructures to support new communities of practice
  • the development of a net zero data roadmap
  • the launch of the UK trusted and connected Data and Analytics Research Environments programme (DARE UK), which will inform the next generation of trusted research environments
  • assessment of large-scale computing and data infrastructure needs across the breadth of UKRI’s communities.

Further information

Read about how we are developing capability in data and analytics research environments.

Read more about the opportunities using artificial intelligence.

Find out more about the research software engineering landscape.

Read the UKRI science case for supercomputing.

Read about data intensive bioscience research (PDF, 4MB).

Last updated: 10 November 2021

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