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Jean-Michel Prima - 30/07/2015

A new way to access Inria applications

Sébastien Campion : “A dataset, an algorithm, and a result. These are the three keywords in the AllGo paradigm.” Sébastien Campion: “A dataset, an algorithm, and a result. These are the three keywords in the AllGo paradigm.”

Launched by the Inria Rennes - Bretagne Atlantique Research Centre, A||GO is a platform intended to facilitate the use of applications developed by the Institute at the national level. As research engineer Sébastien Campion explains, scientists in many fields, businesses and individuals will soon be able to launch tasks via a simple web interface.

When research scientists produce a new software package, the first version is often not immediately available to everyone. There is always a delay before users can obtain a copy of the new software tool.  “It is precisely for this reason that we have decided to look for an alternative ”,explains Sébastien Campion, “We realised that we could keep the software on our servers and make its functionalities available in the form of a web service. Rather than downloading and installing the application on their own computers, users could simply go to A||GO, choose from the list of available tools, upload their data, process it on our servers, and download the result when the task has been executed ”. The service is based on Docker, an open source light virtualisation tool that automates the deployment of applications in the form of software containers on Linux servers. “Our algorithms are executed in these containers that are much lighter than conventional virtual machines. This is now a mature technology, and it is this that has made A||GO possible ”.
Around ten applications are already available on the new site. They cover areas as diverse as audio segmentation, the extraction of terms, network protocols, and denoising microscope images. “We decided to begin on a small scale, followed by a process of incremental growth.Our research teams can add new prototypes as and when they wish.From a technical point of view, the majority of Inria algorithms may be executed in these containers ”.

Reaching a wider public

In addition to its flexibility, A||GO will therefore be “a practical means of distributing software and inviting the scientific community to test a new algorithm.You could say, for example : Here is a prototype that gives such and such results. Feel welcome to try it ”. However, the platform is capable of reaching a wider public. “Anyone can open an account and test an algorithm. It doesn’t matter whether they are a company or a private individual. After just one month of operation, we have been contacted by an SME specialising in generating sub-titles for DVDs. They are interested in Samusa, an application that can detect audio sequences and musical segments in multimedia content. They hope to use it to save time when analysing a soundtrack byskipping over musical passages and concentrating on those sections containing dialogue. Shortly after that, another SME called us to discuss Nero, a software package to extract named entities ”. In addition to being accessible manually through an ordinary web browser, these algorithms can also be integrated directly into the user’s own software via a RESTful web service.  “Imagine that you’re writing your own application and you want to include the Samusa object, say, in your code. In order to do this, all you have to do is to download the Samusa library (API) in the language you're using, Python, Shell, Ruby or another. A||GO offers both machine-machine and human-machine interfaces ”. The web application offers another advantage in addition to its ease of use. It is possible to pay by the task. This could be a very practical solution to the licensing problem. “Sometimes you have to buy a full licence for software when you only need to use it a couple of times. In that case, it’s much better to access a service that operates on a pay per use basis. Rather than paying the full cost of a licence, the user just pays for those individual tasks that they need to perform. And this economic model suits us as well. For this reason, we are considering adding a micro-payment system to the next release. This would make the technology even more accessible ”.

Keywords: Web INRIA Rennes - Bretagne Atlantique Allgo Sébastien Campion