Research that contributes to a ground-breaking discovery like the Higgs announcement, though, is not always
centrally organized. Bird says in fact it's quite a chaotic process and one that makes it difficult to plan for the
correct amount of compute resources that will be needed for testing at the various sites. For example, when there
is a collision in the LHC, impacted particles leave traces throughout the detector. A first level of analysis is to
reconstruct the collision and track the paths of the various particles, which is mostly done at the Tier 0 (CERN)
and Tier 1 sites. Other levels of analysis are broken into smaller datasets and distributed to the partnering
academic institutions for analysis. From there, a variety of statistical analysis, histograms and data mining is
conducted. If a certain discovery is made, an analysis might be refined and another test may be run. "You really
can't predict the workflows," he says.
That's why Bird and CERN are excited about the potential for using some cloud-based services. "We're interested
in exactly what it would take to use cloud storage," he says. "But at this point, we're just not sure of the costs
and how it would impact our funding structure." CERN receives money from various academic institutions that have
access to the data CERN creates to analyze it. Many of those partnering academic groups have compute resources in
place and want the CERN data on their own sites to run experiments on and make that resource available to their
academic communities. "From a technical point of view, it could probably work," he says. "I just don't know how
you'd fund it."
CERN has made some initial forays into the cloud. Internally, CERN is running a private cloud based on OpenStack open source code. Many of the partnering organizations have
private clouds on their own premises as well.
In March, CERN and two other major European research organizations took steps to create a public cloud resource
called Helix Nebula - The
Science Cloud. It's a partnership of research organizations, cloud vendors and IT support companies that are
powering a community cloud for
the scientific and research community. The two-year pilot program CERN has recently kicked off will begin by
running simulations from the LHC in the Helix Nebula cloud.