A Zero Footprint Open Access System – A Case Study from the University of Southampton

A Zero Footprint Open Access System – A Case Study from the University of Southampton

G.J Langley & J.M Herniman

School of Chemistry, University of Southampton, UK


Advances in high throughput techniques, chemistries and analyses, have revolutionised the research landscape. The use of automated systems underpins the majority of mass spectrometry approaches. This has been adopted in the Pharmaceutical industry, through all the ‘Omics’ but it has yet to be fully accepted within some of the chemistry communities. In many cases the high throughput approach means that the vast majority of users are not specifically trained mass spectrometrists. They don’t need to be, but the sample submission, data acquisition and data presentation now demands a user friendly, robust client interface – the so called open access software. This allows mass spectrometry to be fully utilised as a research tool in wider application fields that have their own specialists. They still require a thorough understanding of mass spectrometry but they no longer need to have the day to day hands on capabilities.

Figure 1. Deployment possibilities for RemoteAnalyser.

Key to providing any high throughput open access service is the ease of accessibility for the end user as well as the ease of administration and training for the primary analyst. Whilst the introduction of open access dramatically reduces the analysts’ time required for data acquisition, historically there were three different open access software options from two different vendors which meant that significant time was taken up training the individual users. With more than 150 postgraduate and undergraduate students requiring access to each system. The annual influx of students therefore creates a requirement for training. Coupled with the multiple systems in use, the training load is exacerbated. A further call on resources is the need to provide electronic copies of data for publications and presentations.

A simple but expensive option would be for research groups to have their own copies of each data processing software package. However, this would be prohibitively expensive and would also require a regular training regime and would not reduce the requirement for users to be familiar with multiple data processing systems. Another approach is to make proprietary software packages available on a PC within the MS facility. This again erodes analysts’ time in training, retraining due to lack of use and users often wasting their time on unnecessary reprocessing of data.


To address these issues and enhance the administration of OA systems, a vendor independent, web-based open access interface, RemoteAnalyzer, was installed. This offers a one-stop-shop option for sample submission across multiple platforms, provides uniform e-data output and enhances data security by immediately archiving a clone of the raw data files on a remote server. The only requirement for the user is access to a web-browser enabled computer, e.g. Internet Explorer, Chrome etc. There is no additional software licence cost to the user. Figure 1 shows a schematic representation of the deployment possibilities of RemoteAnalyzer. The data processing, file storage and webserver can be configured to run on a single server or a number of servers depending on specific requirements and level of throughput. Currently we have two GC-MS systems one HPLC-MS and one SFC-MS system configured on one server and each system can be accessed by users on campus and external remote clients via the internet. As the service expands, it is possible to add additional servers and instruments as required.


For on-site users, as well as external clients, there is only a requirement to become familiar with a single software system for sample submission, data analysis and presentation. Figure 2 shows the RemoteAnalyzer sample submission page for a typical user. Users can be configured to have specific permissions and access to specific instruments or methods as required.

A familiar web style user interface is used irrespective of the underlying host instrument. In this way, users are presented with a consistent look and feel to sample submission and interaction with the service. Simple point and click menus allow for sample submission and reviewing of results of completed sample analyses as well as editing of user settings.

Sample submission can be either instrument or method centric. In the former, the chemist is able to select the specific instrument that they want to run their sample(s) on. In the latter, they select the method they want to run and the system will direct them to the most relevant instrument based on technique and availability. This can be configured on a per user basis. Authorised users can register samples for analysis from any where if they have the relevant permission.

One-off training sessions can now be undertaken in a lecture theatre or even via a live web-link for offsite users, dramatically reducing MS department staff time dedicated to user training. With a single system there is a reduced requirement for re-training due to infrequent use of one or the other systems. Authorised users are also able to remotely view their results.

Figure 2. RemoteAnalyzer Sample Submission.

Figure 3. RemoteAnalyzer Administrators’ homepage.

Management System Set-up and Tracking

A typical administrator’s screen for RemoteAnalyzer is shown in Figure 3. From this page a number of options can be selected to give access to user accounts, instrument configuration and method set up etc. RemoteAnalyzer works in conjunction with the native instrument software to provide a simple to use top level interface. Reports can be customised to provide management information such as instrument utilisation or user /group activity.

Data Acquisition and Processing

Data acquisition is carried out using the native instrument software so the acquired data files are maintained entirely intact and independent from subsequent data processing. Data files are converted into a file format optimised for file size and data processing speed. Processing methods are created by the administrator using the relevant section in ‘Instrument Hub’ and the secure results are made available on the server or passed to another location as required.


The system is currently in use at Southampton School of Chemistry and the benefits outlined above are already being realized.

There is no need to compromise choice of open access instrumentation based on functionality of proprietary open access software since RemoteAnalyzer is a cross-platform option.

Additional benefits include the ease of system and sample monitoring, enhanced administration benefits such as real-time accounting and tracking of group and individual usage.

Administration of the system is extremely flexible and the administrator can monitor and interact with any sample at any time. The output to the users is posted immediately on the server for ready access at anytime and can be easily transferred to an electronic document or electronic notebook.

RemoteAnalyzer is the 21st Century solution to instrument management, data handling and reporting. The cross platform capability of this software means instrument choice due to software related issues is not relevant, i.e. RemoteAnalyzer = no compromise.