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The Evolution of Chromatography Data Systems

Chromatography data systems (CDSs) have evolved alongside computers and data systems during the past 40 years, reaping all the benefits of cheap storage and data processing.

Capturing, Processing, Storing Critical Results

Ade Kujore, marketing specialist at Cecil Instruments (Cambridge, UK), remembers his first gas chromatography (GC) “data system”: a chart recorder, a ruler to measure peak height and width, and a notebook in which to paste or copy the results. Your writer recalls the innovative use of scissors and analytical balances to cut out peaks and weigh them, and later the implementation of peak integrators.

The personal computer changed everything. For a while, manufacturers included software and hardware “in the box,” but as software and processing improved, the stand-alone CDS was born.

Modern CDSs automatically capture data and provide for intuitive data manipulation, processing, and storage. “Modern CDSs link to other common software packages—such as Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, and LIMS [laboratory information management systems]—and have made life so much easier for analysts,” Kujore tells Lab Manager.

Method-agnostic CDSs

GC and liquid chromatography (LC) data systems are virtually identical, provided the software recognizes individual instruments and settings. “These parameters must be clearly defined, as no one wishes to confuse GC inlets with LC column temperatures. But once chromatograms are acquired, the CDS manipulates, processes, and stores them identically,” Kujore notes. For example, integration of peaks, construction of calibration curves, processing of blanks and samples, and calculation, reporting, saving, and transfer of data are pretty much identical.

“Although cloud-based systems provide some advantages—especially with respect to multisite availability, manipulation, and use of data—some issues still need to be ironed out,” Kujore says. He mentions security breaches, break-ins by hackers, and misuse by disgruntled employees. “Longevity of storage with respect to the devices, and server location and ownership also must be considered.”

Related Article: Chromatography Data Systems: Features that Make the Difference

Best-in-class CDSs acquire data from third-party vendors’ instruments as well as from the seller’s own systems. Packages from Agilent, Waters, and Thermo Fisher provide this capability. Moreover, to a degree that is remarkable for software markets, top vendors continually update their data management offerings toward broader capabilities, greater instrument inclusiveness, and improved user experiences.

CDSs make sense out of chaos, particularly within regulated industries. Massaging data directly within the software represents a huge advantage over porting data to a spreadsheet for off-line analysis. One way to achieve a high level of processing and collaboration is through LIMS. Trish Meek, director of product strategy at Thermo Fisher Scientific (Philadelphia, PA), notes that in the biofuels industry, LIMS bring “discipline” to a complex data environment by connecting and working harmoniously with CDSs. In turn, CDSs will be “critical to ensuring the quality of biofuels” analyzed through gas or ion chromatography.

Local or central?

Within the past five years, the notion of a CDS based in a central repository, instead of a moreor- less local data system, has become worth considering. Data centralization progressed through CDSs serving several instruments, then an entire lab or perhaps a building, followed by locations within a wide geographic domain and then global enterprises. “The unmistakable trend, particularly for international companies, is to employ data systems that collect all relevant data, wherever it is generated across countries and continents, from multiple instruments, and store it securely in one location,” says David Wayland, senior product manager for informatics at Waters Corporation (Wilmslow, UK).

Labs are fairly aggressive environments for computers. Even water and water vapor, not to mention spills of more noxious materials or the constant pull of air through fume hoods, affect electronics. Environmental concerns therefore form the starting point for considering a centralized CDS or at least having a robust data backup system.

Thus the most relevant modern trend is to deploy CDSs not in isolation but interacting with ERP (enterprise resource planning), LIMS, or proprietary information repositories. “It’s all about efficiency, assuring maximum data quality and [ensuring] that data exists where it needs to be, which is usually outside the CDS,” Wayland notes. Centralization and interoperability are not simply matters of “the forward march of technology,” Wayland says, but result from the drive to improve data management generally and reduce the cost of storage and retrieval.

Wayland concurs that CDSs should accommodate all automated chromatography methods and even nonchromatographic instruments, but with the recognition that workflows and operator skill sets will necessarily vary. Luckily, most CDS platforms allow for workflow differences. “There’s no need to have separate LC, GC, or even MS data systems,” Wayland notes, citing Waters’ own Empower instrument control and chromatography data management packages. “The GC or LC [is] just another instrument.”

Global reach

The emergence of enterprise wide-area CDSs has pushed the boundaries from private, on-premises clouds to private clouds within vendors such as AWS (Amazon Web Services). Cloud has many facets, from IaaS (infrastructure as a service) and PaaS (platform as a service) to SaaS (software as a service). According to Wayland, “Customers continually ask us about cloud computing, as many are moving to cloud infrastructures to support their global business and multicompany relationships. Cloud computing enables the speed and agility customers demand in a globally changing business model while replacing capital costs with predictive variable operational costs.”

Global network CDSs are growing in popularity, mostly within businesses that are required to comply with regulations or that generate intellectual property. Despite some questions related to data access, so far this issue has proved to be a canard.

“Cloud providers’ main business is security, the knowledge that data is stored where customers want it stored, on a platform they can easily access,” Wayland says. Cloud computing eliminates the burden on companies that generate copious quantities of data, reducing the need to manage infrastructure, computer systems, and storage while maintaining an appropriate level of privacy and security. “We’re at a tipping point, especially for CDSs,” he continues. “Not many organizations have taken the plunge yet [into] cloud-based data systems, but we get more and more requests in that regard.”

With the recent changes in the industry, such as AWS releasing its GxP guidance for utilizing cloud computing, the game is changing rapidly in this space.

For additional resources on chromatography data systems, including useful articles and a list of manufacturers, visit