The European Organisation for Astronomical Research in the Southern Hemisphere (ESO), headquartered in Garching,
Germany, operates different state-of-the-art observing sites in Chile. To manage observatory operations and observation
transfer, ESO developed an end-to-end Data Flow System, from Phase I proposal preparation to the final archiving of
quality-controlled science, calibration and engineering data. All information pertinent to the data flow is stored in the
central databases at ESO headquarters and replicated to and from the observatory database servers.
In the ESO's data flow model one can distinguish two groups of databases; the front-end databases, which are replicated
from the ESO headquarters to the observing sites, and the back-end databases, where replication is directed from the
observations to the headquarters.
A part of the front-end database contains the Observation Blocks (OBs), which are sequences of operations necessary to
perform an observation, such as instrument setting, target, filter and/or grism ID, exposure time, etc. Observatory
operations rely on fast access to the OB database and quick recovery strategies in case of a database outage.
After several years of operations, those databases have grown considerably. There was a necessity in reviewing the
database architecture to find a solution that support scalability of the operational databases.
We present the newly developed concept of distributing the OBs between two databases, containing operational and
historical information. We present the architectural design in which OBs in operational databases will be archived
periodically at ESO headquarters. This will remedy the scalability problems and keep the size of the operational
databases small. The historical databases will only exist in the headquarters, for archiving purposes.
ESO introduced a User Portal for its scientific services in November 2007. Registered users have a central entry point for
the Observatory's offerings, the extent of which depends on the users' roles - see . The project faced and overcame a
number of challenging hurdles between inception and deployment, and ESO learned a number of useful lessons along the
way. The most significant challenges were not only technical in nature; organization and coordination issues took a
significant toll as well. We also indicate the project's roadmap for the future.
The European Southern Observatory (ESO) is in the process of creating a central access point for all services offered to its user community via the Web. That gateway, called the User Portal, will provide registered users with a personalized set of service access points, the actual set depending on each user's privileges.
Correspondence between users and ESO will take place by way of "profiles", that is, contact information. Each user may have several active profiles, so that an investigator may choose, for instance, whether their data should be delivered to their own address or to a collaborator.
To application developers, the portal will offer authentication and authorization services, either via database queries or an LDAP server.
The User Portal is being developed as a Web application using Java-based technology, including servlets and JSPs.
Since the beginning on April 3, 1999, the start of observations with the ESO Very Large Telescope (VLT), a significant fraction of the observations is executed in Service Mode (SM). SM observations require that the Principal Investigator (PI) provides all necessary information before the observation, so that the night astronomers in Chile have precise and complete indications on the execution requirements of every program. The observers also need to be able to know which observations can possibly be executed during a given night.
The missing link between these external users and the operations staff at ESO-Chile is the User Support Department (USD) which ensures that this information flow runs smoothly and in a uniform way. This requires the existence of a well-designed network of reports and communication procedures serving purposes such as conveying information from the users to the observatory, allowing the USD support astronomers an efficient review and validation of the material submitted by the users, enabling reliable program execution tracking, or providing rapid program progress feedback to the users, etc.. These tasks manage a level of information flow that complements that of the VLT Data Flow System.
This article will provide an overview about how the exchange of information for SM runs was optimized over the past 7 years, about the lessons learned by interacting with external users and internal operations staff, and the resulting changes and improvements.
The ESO Very Large Telescope Interferometer (VLTI) is the first general-user interferometer that offers near- and mid-infrared long-baseline interferometric observations in service mode as well as visitor mode to the whole astronomical community. Regular VLTI observations with the first scientific instrument, the mid-infrared instrument MIDI, have started in ESO observing period P73, for observations between April and September 2004. The efficient use of the VLTI as a general-user facility implies the need for a well-defined operations scheme. The VLTI follows the established general operations scheme of the other VLT instruments. Here, we present from a users' point of view the VLTI specific aspects of this scheme beginning from the preparation of the proposal until the delivery of the data.