The Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the new particle accelerator built to probe the origin of the universe, is the largest scientific instrument on the planet. The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) will generate so much data that a Global Grid will be activated in Cern to capture the data it generates.
The “red button” day, when the first beams are due for injection, is expected to happen mid June 2008, with the first collisions planned to take place 2 months later.
LHC will produce 15 Petabytes (15 million Gigabytes) of data per year – enough to make a CD stack 40 miles high. These data requirements means that most analysis programmes cannot be run on individual PCs. This is why CERN is leading the development of Grid computing, which aims to link hundreds of major computing centres around the world.
Professor Tony Doyle, technical director of the grid project, said: “We need so much processing power, there would even be an issue about getting enough electricity to run the computers if they were all at Cern. The only answer was a new network powerful enough to send the data instantly to research centres in other countries.”
That network, in effect a parallel internet, is now built, using fibre optic cables that run from Cern to 11 centres in the United States, Canada, the Far East, Europe and around the world. LHC@home is a distributed computing project using the BOINC framework (Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing).
Ian Bird, project leader for Cern’s high-speed computing project, said grid technology could make the internet so fast that people would stop using desktop computers to store information and entrust it all to the internet. “It will lead to what’s known as cloud computing, where people keep all their information online and access it from anywhere,” he said.
The real goal of the grid is, however, to work with the LHC in tracking down nature’s most elusive particle, the Higgs boson. Predicted in theory but never yet found, the Higgs is supposed to be what gives matter mass.
Over the next few years, scientists in Europe are developing the Enabling Grids for E-science and industry in Europe (EGEE) project. Similarly, in the US, scientists plan the Open Science Grid and offer opportunities for other demanding applications in science and science education.