External Cloud Computing Processes Research Data

By | Mar 12, 2012

Cloud computing allows companies to add capabilities and capacity without investing in new equipment, adding employees or licensing new software. Organizations might start by storing non-critical data in the cloud and then adding some communications and productivity applications. Now CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research that runs the Large Hadron Collider particle accelerator, and two other European research labs want to take the concept to the next level. Over two years, they will develop a cloud-based platform that can store, analyze, and process the vast quantities of data coming from the collider and from the other labs' research.

Big Labs Team Up

According to Scientific Computing, CERN has joined the European Space Agency (ESA), and the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in a partnership whose aim is to launch "The Science Cloud" for European scientists and government organizations. The project is the Helix Nebula and will initially handle data from one major project for the partners.

The Science Cloud is especially suited to store the huge quantities of data that research projects generate. For CERN, the new facility will store particle collision traces generated by the Large Hadron Collider in its search for the Higgs boson. Frederic Hemmer, head of CERN IT, says, "CERN's computing capacity needs to keep up with the enormous amount of data coming from the Large Hadron Collider and we see Helix Nebula—the Science Cloud as a great way of working with industry to meet this challenge." For ESA, the project will process satellite trajectory data and EMBL will use it to study large genomes.


The Helix Nebula project will require large investments in both server capacity and infrastructure but the partners expect to make a smaller total investment than if each organization met its requirements independently. The project will meter cloud computing time and the partners will pay according to usage. The partners already have some expertise in cloud computing applications, and they will apply that knowledge to the new and larger project. Once the partners complete the two-year pilot project successfully, they will invite other government organizations to use the facilities.

While the data the initial partners will store on the new platform is not particularly sensitive, security and privacy are major issues. They will become more important when governmental organizations start to use the platform after the first two years. Security of data is especially important for research applications, and privacy concerns are a key issue for governments. The latter is one reason for limiting the project to Europe. Some officials are concerned that European privacy standards may not be respected outside Europe, particularly in the case of the United States with the Patriot Act.

The participating research labs and the private industry partners who will supply the equipment look forward to exploring the possibilities of putting really big "Big Data" in the cloud. Their experience should lead to similar projects in other geographic areas that carry out data-intensive research.

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet.

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