SYMPOSIA PAPER Published: 01 January 1994

NetCDF — A Defacto, Standardized Framework for Analytical Data Exchange, Storage, and Archival


In January 1989, the Analytical Data Interchange and Storage Standards (ADISS) Project was initiated to develop global standards to make analytical data much more portable and reusable. At that time, no widespread data standards existed for analytical chemistry laboratory automation. The first six months of the ADISS Project were spent doing a thorough technical study of the requirements for exchanging, storaging, and archiving of data by analytical chemists. Simultaneously, a full business needs analysis was done to discover what organizational and business requirements must be fulfilled to have any such standards live long and prosper.

Next, a technical systems architecture, called the ADISS Architecture, was designed to meet the technical and business requirements for at least the next decade. The ADISS Architecture includes the ADISS Analytical Information Model (ADISS AIM), the ADISS Application Programming Interface (ADISS API), the ADISS Toolkit, and the ADISS Data Dictionaries. The architecture's two most important technical requirements are: 1) it must work well for all major analytical techniques, and, 2) it must be independent of computer platform type, vendors, and particular applications. The two most important business constraints are that: 1) there is a good, well-funded technical support group for one or more robust reference implementations of the architecture, and, 2) such a software system must be available at minimal to no cost to developers and end users alike.

From the ADISS Architecture technical requirements and design, and the business and organizational constraints, a search was done to find available standards and systems that most closely matched. After many months of evaluating all available existing systems, standards, and proposals, the network Common Data Format (netCDF), supplied by the Unidata Program Center, emerged as the system that would eventually be recommended to various standards groups. This was in mid-1990.

NetCDF was proposed to the Analytical Instrument Association (AIA), which had initiated its Data Standards Program more than a year earlier. The AIA adopted netCDF unchanged because it meets their business and technical requirements. By then, the ADISS AIM had been applied to chromatography, proposed to the AIA, and used as the foundation of the AIA's Chromatography Data Standard, after being modified to meet its specific scope and needs. Since then, the American Society of Mass Spectrometry has successfully applied the ADISS/netCDF framework to mass spectrometry. These groups' usage of the software framework led to its emergence as a defacto standard for data communications for these techniques.

This paper presents technical details and requirements of the ADISS Architecture, describes capabilities of the netCDF system, and some tools available to apply ADISS/netCDF to other analytical techniques.

Author Information

Lysakowski, R
Laboratory and R&D Systems Group, Digital Equipment Corporation, Marlboro, MA, USA
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Developed by Committee: E49
Pages: 57–74
DOI: 10.1520/STP13234S
ISBN-EB: 978-0-8031-5273-1
ISBN-13: 978-0-8031-1876-8