System Details

Arctos is a multi-tenant database using expansions of a data model developed by the University of California’s Museum of Vertebrate Zoology in the early 1990s. It operates in an arena where tools and standards are evolving rapidly, and where savvy curators and collections staff are a continuous source of good ideas.  Thus, it is a dynamic system under continuous development.


Arctos data and applications are hosted on the Corral system at the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC), whose mission is to enable discoveries that advance science and society through the application of advanced computing technologies. TACC provides Arctos with secure off-site storage, OCR processing, media storage and processing, and other services. This arrangement alleviates the need for collections personnel to administer servers, patch operating systems, deal with failed drives, or develop backup strategies.

Oracle to PostGRESQL Database

Originally the guts of Arctos consisted of an Oracle Relational Database Management System (RDBMS). Along with holding tables of data, the Oracle RDBMS maintained referential integrity, enforced controlled vocabularies, provided a secondary security and user management layer, and separated data into Virtual Private Databases (VPDs) for the different collections. Oracle’s VPD architecture allowed sharing of equipment, expertise, and authority data, while allowing users to maintain exclusive row-level control of collections data. In Spring 2020, after extensive testing, we decided to migrate Arctos to PostgreSQL where its relational database management system with virtual private database would be replicated. The migration was both a technical and financial decision after over a year of consideration. A PostgreSQL database will allow future innovations at a lower cost and fits with the expertise of our partners at TACC.

In May 2021, Arctos was awarded a three-year grant from the National Science Foundation’s “Sustained Availability of Biological Infrastructure” (SABI) program. The award was made to three partner institutions (Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, Museum of Southwestern Biology, Texas Advanced Computing Center) for critical technical and infrastructure work that will establish a sustainable framework for Arctos. Read more about our SABI grant.

ColdFusion Platform

Arctos applications are written in Adobe ColdFusion, with Lucee, providing a bridge between users, applications, and the RDBMS by converting CFML to HTML forms via an Apache webserver, and converting form submissions back to DDL. ColdFusion also provides a method to rapidly develop dynamic webservices. Various JavaScript components and the jQuery library are employed heavily, together with webservices, to improve the user experience without requiring specialized software.

Scheduled tasks perform functions such as emailing reminders to users, maintaining flattened query data, publishing data via the Integrated Publishing Toolkit (IPT),  querying GenBank for Arctos specimens, and creating media for various specialized imaging projects.

As a centralized web application, clients require a modern browser on a reasonably brisk network connection.  The FireFox browser is recommended for database operators, but all public features and most operator features are supported by most of the popular browsers. There are effectively no restrictions on number of users, or limit to the number of concurrent users.

Arctos code is managed in Github, a fully-featured versioning system that allows roll-backs, separate development threads, etc. Code updates are added frequently by seamless push.

Arctos software and data definition language are freely available, and local installations are possible. One such endeavor (MCZBase) uses forked code that is derived from, but no longer contributing to, Arctos. We can provide no support for independent installations.

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