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, policymakers 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

Our vision

Our vision is a coherent state-of-the-art national digital research infrastructure that will seamlessly connect researchers, policymakers 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 UK Research and Innovation’s (UKRI) 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

Advisory Group for Digital Research Infrastructure

UKRI is pleased to announce the establishment of the Advisory Group for Digital Research Infrastructure.

The purpose of the advisory group is to serve as an independent expert body which will be responsible for:

  • reviewing the portfolio of specific investment proposals developed by the Digital Research Infrastructure Committee
  • providing advice to the UKRI Executive Committee

The establishment of the advisory group marks an important step in our journey to creating a balanced portfolio for investment to support the digital research infrastructure programme.

The UKRI digital research infrastructure programme was provided with a multi-year allocation as part of UKRI’s 2021 Comprehensive Spending Review settlement:

  • £17 million in financial year 2022 to 2023
  • £42 million in financial year 2023 to 2024
  • £70 million in financial year 2024 to 2025

The digital research infrastructure programme is ready to deliver the final jigsaw piece of its governance, advisory and operational structures, the advisory group.

Strategic themes

The advisory group, alongside other elements, is important to ensure a balanced portfolio of projects across five digital research infrastructure strategic themes. The five themes are:

  • data infrastructure
  • large-scale computing
  • secure services and tools for sensitive data
  • skills and career pathways
  • foundational tools, techniques and practices

Advisory group members will directly impact the digital research infrastructure ecosystem in the UK by:

  • providing advice to the UKRI Executive Committee on prioritisation of options for investment in digital research infrastructure, by assessing options that have been prepared by the Digital Research Infrastructure Committee
  • providing advice to the digital research infrastructure programme leadership on the prioritisation of activities across and within the thematic areas articulated in the UKRI digital research infrastructure strategy
  • providing advice to the digital research infrastructure programme leadership on progress towards the delivery of the programme’s objectives by recommending refinements to the portfolio
  • providing advice to UKRI on the UK’s digital research infrastructure landscape to support the digital research infrastructure programme leadership
  • assisting UKRI with identifying, quantifying and mitigating various kinds of risk
  • acting as a ‘rapid response’ group if advice was needed outside of the routine cycle of meetings

Membership

  • David De Roure, University of Oxford
  • Christine Orengo, University College London
  • Tom Crick, University of Swansea
  • Sian John, NCC Group
  • James Fleming, The Francis Crick Institute
  • Neil Chue Hong, The University of Edinburgh
  • Tony Cass, CERN
  • Amanda Brock, Open UK

Further information

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Last updated: 1 November 2023

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