Computing power on the move

You might sit right next to your computer as you work, use the GRID’s computing power sitting in another part of the world or share CPU time with the Cloud: actual and virtual machines communicate and exchange information, and the place where they are located is a detail of only marginal importance. CERN’s new remote computer centre will open in Hungary in 2013.


Artist's impression of the new Wigner Data Centre. (Image: Wigner).

CERN’s computing department has been aiming to minimise human contact with the machines for a while now. “The problem is that people going in creates dust, and simply touching things may cause damage,” explains Wayne Salter, Leader of the IT Computing Facilities Group. A first remote centre on the other side of Geneva was opened in June 2010 and a new one will open in Hungary next year. “Once the centre in Budapest is running, we will not be going there to operate it. As far as possible, we’ll be managing it via the network.”

CERN will take care of software configuration and the day-to-day running of the centre, such as responding to software alarms, remotely. “It’s an important step for CERN IT, and quite a challenge,” says Wayne, “because it’s a new operational model for us. But I think we have the tools and know-how to make it work.” The physical installation and hardware maintenance will be handled by the Hungarian host institution, the Wigner Research Centre for Physics.

The new centre was originally planned as a means of extending the Tier 0 capacity of the Grid for the LHC experiments, but it has also become an opportunity to ensure business continuity at CERN. “Should the computer systems located at CERN go down in the event of an emergency or a prolonged power cut, we will be able to transfer the critical functions to the centre in Hungary temporarily,” explains Wayne. “It’s a case of mitigating the risk of having all the Organization’s computing in one location.”

The new centre in numbers

Surface: 3 rooms, each of 275m2
IT Load: Increasing from 600kW in first year in steps of approximately 300kW/annum
First year:
• Roughly 18k processing cores
• Roughly 5.5 PB disk storage

Increasing annually by:
• Roughly 9k processing cores

• Roughly 2.7 PB disk storage

Critical functions, he explains, does not mean complete physics data handling. “In a major emergency, the experiments would probably not be taking data anyway, and if the problem did only affect the computer centre, the experiments could use their capacity to buffer a certain amount of data and the physics programme would not be affected.” The back-up in Hungary is primarily planned for the computing which allows us to do our every day work at CERN – from e-mail to legal and HR databases and the pay system. “It can take several days to restore a database if it loses power unexpectedly, and some of the data may be irredeemably corrupted,” underlines Wayne. “Of course we hope this never happens, but the new remote centre gives us the chance to be prepared!”

No matter where the machines are located, the end user will notice no difference in the quality of the response.

by Joannah Caborn Wengler