Grids offer powerful infrastructures and promising concepts for the development and deployment of advanced applications in medical research and healthcare. The construction of HealthGrids in practice, however, is challenging due to reasons of scientific, technical, and cultural nature, among them the large gap between communities that develop and use the technology. Whereas grid developments focus mostly on functionality, usability issues are also very important to enable the potential of grids to be fully exploited by those who could mostly benefit from it, the end-users. In this paper we make a retrospective of our efforts to develop the Virtual Lab for functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI). This project aims at providing for the end-users a grid-based system to facilitate research and clinical usage of fMRI data for study of brain activation. We present the evolution of this project in three phases coined “low hanging fruit”, “trying out” and “end-user ready”, and the lessons learnt in each one. The evolution of the software architecture, which had a large impact on the user front-end, is discussed in more detail. The current architecture facilitates the construction of front-ends that enable users to access the grid infrastructure from a single user-friendly GUI. All (local and grid) resources are accessed directly by the users from a virtual desktop implemented by the Virtual Resource Browser (VBrowser).
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