ORDS FAQs - archived version

This page is a copy of the ORDS FAQs previously available via the home page of this site. It is preserved here for archival purposes only: please note that as the ORDS has now been discontinued, many of the answers given here are likely to be out of date or inaccurate.

What is the ORDS?

The ORDS is an online database management system that enables researchers at the University of Oxford (and their collaborators) to create databases, and then add, edit, search, and share the data they gather during their research. The ORDS is accessed via a web interface, so researchers can work on their data from any computer with an Internet connection.

It enables easy collaboration, as multiple editors can work on a single database. Access controls enable project owners to choose who has permission to do what. Besides creating databases from scratch, researchers can also import existing data from Access databases, from spreadsheets, or from SQL database files, enabling old data to take on a new lease of life. Data in the ORDS can be exported in common formats for analysis, sharing and archiving.

Because the ORDS is provided as a central university service, your data can be kept securely, regularly backed up, and restored in the event of disasters.

For a quick introduction to the ORDS, watch the 7-minute demo video. For a more detailed survey of the system, you can view the slidecast of a presentation about the ORDS, given as part of the Things to do with Data talk series in 2014.

There is an IT Services Service Level Description (SLD) for the ORDS. You can read it at http://ords.ox.ac.uk/documents/ORDS%20SLD.pdf.

How do I start using the ORDS?

Go to http://app.ords.ox.ac.uk/ and log in to the ORDS using your usual University single-sign-on username and password. You will then be able to register with the service, and, once your registration has been confirmed, create projects and databases.

Please note that you will only be able to use the trial version of the ORDS until you have spoken to a member of the ORDS support staff to ensure that the system is an appropriate solution for your research needs. Whilst using the trial version you will not be able to add records to a table that already contains over 100 records, and you will not be able to share your data. You will still be able to get a good feel for how the system works and whether it is something you might wish to use in your research.

Tables in the full service are restricted to a maximum of 500,000 records. If your total data storage requirements are likely to be greater than 20GB (including saved datasets), please raise this as an issue when contacting ORDS staff.

Instructions for using the ORDS are available from http://ords.ox.ac.uk/documentation.xml.

Is there anything the ORDS can’t do?

We are continuing to improve the ORDS in response to feedback from users. Over the coming months we hope to implement a simple mechanism for sending ORDS data to long-term data archives such as Oxford's institutional data repository, ORA-Data, where they can be linked to from research publications. We are also in the process of improving the query builder to enable researchers to construct sophisticated queries without needing to know SQL. We will also be adding improved functionality for dealing with images and multimedia in the future.

We will continue to improve the functionality of the ORDS as funding becomes available. If you have a specific request for additional functionality, do let us know.

We would be pleased to collaborate with research projects to implement new functionality.

Why has the University developed this service?

The initial development of the ORDS was stimulated by requests from researchers in the Humanities Division for a ‘database-as-a-service’ which would assist collaboration when developing research databases. Development has since expanded to meet the requirements of researchers across all academic disciplines.

As the ORDS has grown, so the motivation for its development has evolved. One of the most important motivations is that the Research Councils, who fund much of the research that takes place in the University, are becoming concerned that valuable research data that have been paid for out of public funds are not being preserved or made available after projects end. They want to ensure that, like research articles, data continue to be available for the long term, and that the data underpinning research articles are made available to future research, thus improving research integrity and encouraging re-use. Making databases citable will also enable the researchers responsible for them to be given the credit and recognition that this often time-consuming work deserves.

The University is furthermore concerned that researchers are at present not always using the database technology most appropriate to their work, and are collectively not getting value for money. Commercial database management software often only partially fulfils the expanding requirements of researchers and funders, and can take a lot of time to learn how to use expertly. Providing a standard software tool that can meet most research requirements and is centrally hosted can (it is hoped!) both better satisfy research requirements whilst also saving money.

No researcher will be required to use the ORDS. It will only be recommended to researchers when it can meet the requirements of their research. As the ORDS has been developed in-house, the University can adapt it in response to requests from researchers

Where will my data be hosted?

All data in the ORDS is hosted on servers owned and maintained by the University of Oxford.

What if I’m not based at the University of Oxford?

If you are collaborating with Oxford researchers and are based at a university that is part of the UK Access Management Federation, then you should log-in and register as an ORDS user, before asking the Oxford-based project owner of the ORDS project to add you as a member. You will then be able to use the ORDS in the same manner as your colleagues. If you are not a member of a university that is part of the Access Management Federation, you will need to get a University of Oxford Virtual Card before you can use the service. Please apply via ords@it.ox.ac.uk.

The ORDS service is based on open-source software that we are developing at Oxford, called the Oxford DaaS (Database-as-a-Service). This will be freely available for anyone with the requisite knowledge of Java to take and adapt. Other universities will be welcome to install the software and create their own service based upon it.

Can I keep my databases in ORDS indefinitely?

The ORDS is not designed for archiving databases. Data which are 'frozen' and ready to be archived and cited (i.e. versions that will not be worked on further), should be deposited in a data archive. At present you will need to export your database (either as .csv files or as an SQL database file), and then send the file(s) to your data archive of choice with whatever metadata the archive requires. We are working on a one-click archiving mechanism which will automate the sending of your data and metadata to Oxford’s forthcoming ORA-Data institutional data repository, and we hope to extend this to other data repositories in the future.

More information about ORA-Data is available from http://www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/bdlss/digital-services/data-archiving, whilst a list of subject-specific data repositories can be obtained from http://www.re3data.org/. Further information on data archiving is available from the university's research data management website.

How do I join the ORDS mailing list?

If you are interested in receiving news and updates about the Online Research Database Service, do join the ORDS mailing list. It's unlikely that we'll be sending out more than one email per month on average, so you won't be overwhelmed. And of course you can always unsubscribe again should you ever tire of hearing about our exciting new features and ideas.

To subscribe to the list, address an email to sympa@maillist.ox.ac.uk, with the subject line subscribe ords_mailinglist Firstname Surname. You should replace Firstname and Surname with your own name.