The importance of OpenStack for CERN

Tim Bell of the IT department explains the role OpenStack plays in enabling CERN to flexibly tailor its computing resources to meet demand


Last month, local OpenStack users from France and Switzerland held a meeting at CERN. International Science Grid This Week discusses the event with Tim Bell, a member of the OpenStack management board and leader of the Operating Systems and Infrastructure Services group within CERN’s IT department. Bell explains the vital role OpenStack plays in enabling CERN to flexibly tailor its computing resources to meet demand, as well as its importance for other organizations across the globe.

What does OpenStack enable you to do?

OpenStack provides a way for people to get computing resources in a very short time: in a few minutes, rather than waiting for months to have a machine delivered. It allows people to come along to a web interface and say ‘give me a computer’. Then, in the time that it takes to get a cup of coffee, you can have a computer ready and waiting for you, hosted in the CERN Data Centre.

How exactly is OpenStack important to CERN then?

We need to be able to provide large-scale computing resources to physicists around the world. OpenStack gives us a framework through which we can provide that to people with less administration overhead and enables it to be done in a way that is consistent with other OpenStack clouds in other labs around the world.

What people at CERN, and in high-energy physics in general, are looking for is a more flexible, self-service way of obtaining computing resources. People are used to using public clouds and getting resources at the push of a button — albeit with a credit card. As such, what they’re looking for from internal IT departments is a similar degree of flexibility. Providing an OpenStack base allows them to have something which is familiar to them, but which can be handled in the scope of allocations or pledges of computing resources, such as those coming from the Worldwide LHC Computing Grid.

Each of the experiments on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) takes different approaches to handling its data. We’re now seeing people exploring exactly how best to use cloud computing. With the service coming into production this year, we’re in a phase in which people are trying to understand the best way of using it. The high-level triggers farms at the experiment pits are also running OpenStack and that allows them to opportunistically use those spare resources in the same way as they use the resources in the CERN Data Centre. So, when the accelerator isn’t running, such as at the moment, the experiments can take advantage of that compute resource to do analysis and simulation.

Read the rest of this article at International Science Grid This Week