ERMrest: an entity-relationship data storage service for web-based, data-oriented collaboration

Karl Czajkowski, Carl Kesselman, Robert Schuler, Hongsuda Tangmunarunkit

Scientific discovery is increasingly dependent on a scientist's ability to acquire, curate, integrate, analyze, and share large and diverse collections of data. While the details vary from domain to domain, these data often consist of diverse digital assets (e.g. image files, sequence data, or simulation outputs) that are organized with complex relationships and context which may evolve over the course of an investigation. In addition, discovery is often collaborative, such that sharing of the data and its organizational context is highly desirable. Common systems for managing file or asset metadata hide their inherent relational structures, while traditional relational database systems do not extend to the distributed collaborative environment often seen in scientific investigations. To address these issues, we introduce ERMrest, a collaborative data management service which allows general entity-relationship modeling of metadata manipulated by RESTful access methods. We present the design criteria, architecture, and service implementation, as well as describe an ecosystem of tools and services that we have created to integrate metadata into an end-to-end scientific data life cycle. ERMrest has been deployed to hundreds of users across multiple scientific research communities and projects. We present two representative use cases: an international consortium and an early-phase, multidisciplinary research project.

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