CERN IT boss: What we do is not really that special

You'll all be doing the same - in about 10 years' time


Where do you go after you've worked in CERN's IT crew?

And what happens to all of these staff? “Many of them are working at the companies that have been collaborating with us around open source. So one of the good things about summits is that the people come here they network and as part of the collaboration software development - the companies are able also to understand the quality of the people we have at CERN and therefore many of them are in high demand at such time as their contracts come to an end.”

Yes, a stint at CERN can indeed boost your CV. Not that this is front of mind of Bell. He’s one of the cadre of CERN workers on permanent contracts. And he’s already looking well into the future - in lockstep with the physicists.

“It’s certainly important that the physics should not be limited by the computing and to that extent then what’s important is we start work like the migration to the environment and in production - so the OpenStack cloud was in production in July last year - and now the configuration management environment is changing over - and then the users have a chance to use the new facilities for a number of months before the accelerator starts up again.”

But as with the physicists, Bell is already required to look ahead to the next problem.

“Our primary goal at the moment is to be scaling out the production OpenStack cloud for the future. Where we do do some work is in... taking the extreme conditions for the LHC, the extreme computing challenges and then we also work with industry on those.

“An example of that is the Openlab and Rackspace collaboration where we try to spot problems that are coming in a few years' time and work on them now using the LHC as a driver - so when the commercial average user needs that, [the] function is already available.”

“So amongst other things, we at CERN developed the active directory driver for OpenStack and now with Rackspace we’ve done the federated identity to allow multiple clouds to talk to each other.”

Looking further ahead, whatever the physicists decide the next problem is, Bell’s problem is still likely to be data. (Apart from all the other problems listed above, of course…)

“When we look out at 2023 we’re potentially facing a data rate along the lines of 400PB a year, and at that point clearly we have to find ways under which to be ensuring the computing is able to process that data level. So research work is already going on to try and understand how to be taking on these kind of challenges.”

Bell adds: “There are other groups, particularly in the data area and also as part of a number of European Union and collaborations with other big scientific organisations like the European Space Agency. We are all facing similar challenges.”

So there you go: CERN faces the same challenges as you - tight budget, linking up clouds, keeping both newbies and old hands happy. And it faces the same challenges as the European Space Agency and NASA - dealing with data rates rapidly approaching exabyte scale as it keeps the biggest brains on the planet looking to the skies.

So, really not that special? Yeah, right. ®


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