eResearchAustralasia 2020

With annual conferences since 2007 eResearchAustralasia was hosted online this year, due to the impacts of SARS-CoV-2. Typically conferences are held along the eastern seaboard of Australia, which does bring into question the "-asia" part of the suffix. Even the conference logo highlights Australia and New Zealand, to the exclusion of the rest of the word. I am not sure how eResearch NZ feels about this encroachment on their territory. To be fair, however, eResearchAustralasia did have some "-asian" content, primarily in the keynote address of data analytics for COVID-19 tracking in Indonesia, a presentation on data sharing also with an Indonesian focus.

The conference had 582 attendees, up 119 from last year, and ran for five days from Monday, October 19 to Friday, October 23. Presentations and timetabling was quite varied with a combination of single-session keynotes, three or four concurrent streams of oral presentations and "birds-of-a-feather" sessions, lightning talks, "solution showcases", a poster session (read, "download the PDF"), online exhibitions, and a rather poorly-thought-out "speed networking"; overall more than 120 presentations. The conference itself was conducted through a product called "OnAir", which from some accounts has a good event management suite (EventsAIR), but the user interface could certainly do with some significant improvement. One notable advantage of having an online conference with pre-recorded presentations is that the presenters could engage in a live Q&A and elaboration with attendees, which actually meant that more content could be derived.

It was, of course, impossible to attend all the events so any review is orientated to those sessions that could be visited, which is around fifty in my case. The conference has promised to make videos available at a later date on a public platform (e.g., their Youtube channel) as there was no means to download videos at the conference itself, although sometimes slidedecks were provided. Unsurprisingly, a good proportion of the sessions were orientated around the new work and research environments due to the pandemic (including a topic stream), ranging from data management services, DNA sequencing using Galaxy, and multiple sessions on moving training online.

Training, in fact, received its own topic stream which is good to see after many years of alerts on the growing gap between researcher skills, practices, and requirements. This became particularly evident in one presentation from Intersect, which highlighted the need for educational scaffolding. Another training feature of note came from the University of Otago who, with an interest in replication and reproducibility, reported on their training in containers. This provided for a very interesting comparison with the report on The Australian Research Container Orchestration Service (ARCOS) which is establishing an Australian Kubernetes Core Service to support the use and orchestration of containers.

It will be interesting to see how ARCOS interfaces not just with the Australian Research Data Commons (ARDC), but also with the newly announced Australian Research Environment (ARE), a partnership between Pawsey, AARnet, and NCI "to provide a streamlined, nationally integrated workspace connected by high speed links" in 2021, especially when looking at the presentation on The Future of Community Cloud and State Based Infrastructure Organisations and AARNets presentation on Delivering sustainable Research Infrastructure, emphasizing the National Research Data Infrastructure and expansions on CloudStor Active Research Data Storage and Analysis services.

Research Computing Services from the University of Melbourne and friends were well-represented at the Conference. Steve Manos, for example, gave the presentation on ARCOS. Bernard Meade was a speaker on the panel for Governance Models for Research Compute, whereas yours truly inflicted to a willing audience two presentations to conference; one on Spartan: From Experimental Hybrid towards a Petascale Future, and another on contributing to the international HPC Certification Forum; I made sure I provided slidedecks and a transcript, I don't think anyone else did that. There was also one presentation on law and Natural Language Processing which garnered an additional mention of Spartan, albeit only to the extent that they said they hadn't gotten around to using the service yet! Something also of note was the multiple presentations on Galaxy which is, of course, prominent at Melbourne Bioinformatics.

This is, of course, only a taste of the presentations both in terms of what was available at the conference and what your reviewer attended, but it does give some highlights of what where seen as significant contributions. Despite some situational difficulties in hosting the event eResearchAustralasia have done quite well indeed in making the conference happen and deserve strong and sincere congratulations for that success and the impressive number of registrations. Whilst the conference made it clear that people are adapting to the current circumstances and eResearch has made enormous contributions to the scientific landscape on this matter, there is also clear indications of some national-level organisational initiatives as well. Whilst disruption and change are inevitable, especially in these circumstances, it is hoped that the scientific objectives remain of the higer priority throughout.