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Three-year MALT project comes to a close


CERN Data Centre
The CERN IT department is responsible for providing over 150 different software packages – both commercial and open source – to members of the CERN community. (Image: CERN)

At the end of 2021, the three-year MALT project, working to rationalise the provision of software licences at CERN, ended. The important lessons learned from this project will now be applied across all related activities at the Organization.

Like most large organisations, CERN makes use of software – both commercial and open source – to support its core work. The IT department provides software to those who need it across the Laboratory. In cooperation with the IPT department, the IT department supports the CERN community by negotiating and purchasing the licences for the commercial software that is required.

Over recent years, numerous companies have moved from a “campus” to a “cloud” model of software provision. Many now require a specific number of people – or even named individuals – to be associated with licences, often resulting in marked price increases.

To address this, the MALT project was launched in 2019 with the hiring of six fellows. Since then, the project has helped the Organization to rationalise licences, identify alternative software where appropriate and negotiate improved licensing deals with key software vendors. The project has also helped us to learn valuable lessons about providing software licences across a unique – and highly heterogeneous – organisation like CERN. The six key lessons are as follows:

  • Accounting: Knowing the total costs associated with software can help us all to make better, informed decisions.
  • Eligibility: Based on the above, the IT department has learned the importance of defining clear eligibility criteria – based on needs – for licensed products. This ensures that costs don’t automatically spiral when personnel numbers grow.
  • Standardisation: Where markets are mature, we should rely on out-of-the-box software. Minimising customisation where it is not strictly necessary ensures services remain manageable and affordable and can be upgraded or replaced easily.
  • User engagement: Strong channels for communication and inter-departmental governance help the IT department to understand needs and provide appropriate software, differentiating requirements in a fine-grained manner.
  • Architecture: Software products should not be seen independently, but rather as part of a soundly architected user-centric technology landscape across the Organization.
  • Data governance: Solutions provided via the cloud must be compliant with CERN policies on security, data ownership and data privacy.

These lessons will now be applied to all decision-making processes related to software licensing: both those currently under way and those that arise in future. Given that this move to a cloud licensing model is part of a wider trend among software vendors, it is also vital to ensure that we have personnel with expertise in cloud licensing located in the relevant teams at CERN – both within the IT department and beyond.

“One of several situations that led to the launch of the MALT project in 2019 was the proposed increase in licensing costs for key software vendors,” says Maite Barroso Lopez, the former leader of the MALT project and Deputy Head of the CERN IT department. “MALT has helped us to rationalise how licences are used across our wider community, reducing waste and freeing up the space to focus our relationships with vendors on new and strategic technologies that support CERN's mission.”

“With the MALT umbrella project coming to a successful close, we will put the lessons to work,” says Enrica Porcari, Head of the CERN IT department. “We believe the MALT project has put us in a good position to help our communities have easy and timely access to the right tools to do their work as efficiently and effectively as possible.”