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      Making Access to Astronomical Software More Efficient



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          Access to astronomical data through archives and VO is essential but does not solve all problems. Availability of appropriate software for analyzing the data is often equally important for the efficiency with which a researcher can publish results. A number of legacy systems (e.g. IRAF, MIDAS, Starlink, AIPS, Gipsy), as well as others now coming online are available but have very different user interfaces and may no longer be fully supported. Users may need multiple systems or stand-alone packages to complete the full analysis which introduces significant overhead. The OPTICON Network on `Future Astronomical Software Environments' and the USVAO have discussed these issues and have outlined a general architectural concept that solves many of the current problems in accessing software packages. It foresees a layered structure with clear separation of astronomical code and IT infrastructure. By relying on modern IT concepts for messaging and distributed execution, it provides full scalability from desktops to clusters of computers. A generic parameter passing mechanism and common interfaces will offer easy access to a wide range of astronomical software, including legacy packages, through a single scripting language such as Python. A prototype based upon a proposed standard architecture is being developed as a proof-of-concept. It will be followed by definition of standard interfaces as well as a reference implementation which can be evaluated by the user community. For the long-term success of such an environment, stable interface specifications and adoption by major astronomical institutions as well as a reasonable level of support for the infrastructure are mandatory. Development and maintenance of astronomical packages would follow an open-source, Internet concept.

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          26 April 2010

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          7 pages, 1 figure; Accepted for publication in Proceedings of Science


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