The Symbiota* team at Arizona State University (ASU) is strongly committed to providing excellent, sustainable services to the portals, projects, and data communities that we support. We are an academic group active in diversifying the means through which we can achieve financial sustainability for the personnel and infrastructure needed to maintain and grow the Symbiota portal communities. This requires identifying and managing the relationship between the funded scope of any award or contract and the effort that we can allocate towards that scope. And further, it requires communicating these scope-to-effort relationships to current and prospective partners. We want to be transparent and continue to have the community’s support and trust to keep advancing our shared interests.
1. iDigBio Symbiota Support Hub (SSH). The SSH is funded from 09/2021 to 08/2026, per NSF “iDigBio 3” award and the respective subaward to ASU. The scope of this five-year award is well defined and fairly narrow:
Support the continued digitization and portal/data (image) hosting needs for all Symbiota portals that originated as NSF-funded TCNs (Thematic Collections Network) and PENs (Partners to Existing Networks) prior to 2021. With up to 30 terabyte (TB) capacity for image storage at ASU and additional support for archival image storage, as a successor solution for CyVerse in this specific, narrow context (i.e., pre-2021 NSF Symbiota TCNs and PENs).
We now host over 55 portals on our IT infrastructure, along with web-ready images created by TCNs. The SSH provides Help Desk services, training resources and events, among other services. Importantly, NSF funding for the SSH includes aggregation and implementation of newly developed Symbiota code, but does not provide for the development of the software itself (see: Funding Ideas). Further, the SSH scope does not include funding to provide services to portals that were created through processes other than NSF TCN and PEN awards, or those made after 2020, nor does it provide funding for novel Symbiota feature development, etc. The iDigBio 3 award was made through NSF’s Sustaining program, with a mandate to implement sustainability solutions that do not just translate into reapplying for funding through the same program.
2. Other Symbiota Research Awards. For all Symbiota services that exceed the iDigBio 3 scope – e.g., additional or extended hosting capacities, new portals, new functions (such as Extended Specimens) – we are able to collaborate on research proposals and prospective awards made by funding bodies such as the NSF, USDA, or NIH. For instance, the NSF-supported NEON project funds a portion of our Symbiota software development. Collaborating on new proposals and awards is strongly preferred by our team, as it allows us to act as equal academic partners. Such funds can support new Symbiota development, data management, IT infrastructure, and other scientific collaborations.
3. Fee-Based Symbiota Service Contracts. In 2023 we rolled out a third means to sustain and scale Symbiota community support through BioKIC Services. Operationally, this is an ASU Recharge Center, similar to an institutional bioimaging or sequencing facility. It allows us to efficiently provide quotes and invoices that cover the full spectrum of Symbiota services. We thereby act as service providers, not as equal academic research partners. BioKIC Services can be contracted directly and by diverse clients including for instance individual projects or institutions that have needs and funds for targeted Symbiota development or support. ASU Recharge Centers operate under a cost recovery model, as opposed to a profit model. Requests for BioKIC Services can be initiated on this page.
Outlook. Over the past decade Symbiota portal communities have grown and accomplished many great innovations in biodiversity data digitization, curation, and research. We are very hopeful that the three models outlined above will enable the ASU Symbiota team to continue to provide valuable services to portal communities and into the future. As with any large-scale IT infrastructure or data project, we are always looking for sustainable ways to finance our efforts insomuch as they are providing important community services. Our goal is to be transparent as we attempt to achieve diversified, sound business models and practices that advance our shared commitments and goals towards natural history collections and biodiversity data science. We look forward to your partnership into the future. Please contact us if we can be of service at email@example.com.
*Symbiota is an open source software used for biodiversity collections data management and aggregation. The Symbiota code version developed by ASU’s Biodiversity Knowledge Integration Center (BioKIC) is available through our GitHub repository.