CERN openlab is a unique public-private partnership between CERN and leading ICT companies. At the start of this year, openlab officially entered its fifth phase, which will run until the end of 2017. For the first time in its history, it has extended beyond the CERN community to include other major European and international research laboratories.
Founded in 2001 to develop the innovative ICT systems needed to cope with the unprecedented computing challenges of the LHC, CERN openlab unites science and industry at the cutting edge of research and innovation. In a white paper published last year, CERN openlab set out the main ICT challenges it will tackle during its fifth phase, namely data acquisition, computing platforms, data storage architectures, computer management and provisioning, networks and connectivity, and data analytics.
As it enters its fifth phase, CERN openlab is expanding to include other research laboratories. "Today, research centres in other disciplines are also starting to produce very high quantities of data at a very high speed," says Alberto Di Meglio, head of CERN openlab. "The idea with the new phase of CERN openlab is to understand together — across disciplines — what are the challenges we all face and how can we collectively address them?"
To a certain extent, all ‘big science’ research follows the same basic pattern of data acquisition, analysis, computing, etc. However, as new research centres join the team, they bring new requirements to those typically considered by CERN openlab. "Things are very centralised in the high-energy physics community: data is generated by the experiments at CERN and then distributed across the world for analysis," says Alberto. "By contrast, the model often used in biomedical research is almost the exact opposite of this: data is generated by thousands of distributed instruments and is then brought together for analysis. It’s important to understand how the technologies developed by ICT companies can cope with such wildly varying models." These differences will have to be thoroughly considered when developing data-management infrastructures.
CERN openlab is not only expanding on the public research side, it is also looking for new industrial partners. "We’re currently developing new ways for smaller companies — those with innovative, disruptive ideas — to participate," says Alberto. "It is absolutely vital for Europe that there is a continuous exchange of information and expertise between research and industry. CERN openlab plays a central role in this vision."