Prestigious US award for CERN computing

Les Robertson (left) who received award on behalf of CERN

Les Robertson (left) who received award on behalf of CERN

On 4 June in the distinguished surroundings of Washington's National Building Museum, Les Robertson (photo), Deputy Leader of CERN*'s Information Technology Division accepted a 21st Century Achievement Award from the Computerworld Honors Program on behalf of the Laboratory. This prestigious award was made to CERN for its innovative application of information technology to the benefit of society, and followed the Laboratory's nomination by Lawrence Ellison, Chairman and CEO of the Oracle Corporation. Ellison nominated CERN in the Science category in recognition of 'pioneering work in developing a large scale data warehouse' - an innovative computing architecture that responds precisely to the global particle physics community's needs.

CERN Director-General, Luciano Maiani said,"This is an important recognition of CERN's excellence in Information Technology. In particular, it is a reward for the teams of physicists on CERN's LEP experiments who contributed to the development and implementation of this new architecture. The prize is also an encouragement for the physicists working on the complex challenges of LHC computing."

Hans Hoffmann, CERN's Director of Scientific Computing, commented : "In addition to its major contribution to physics, CERN has been a consistent innovator in Information Technology, from the Web to its current work on Grid computing. We are delighted with this prize; particularly as it demonstrates recognition for CERN's computing initiatives not from the academic world, but from industry's leading computing experts."

The kind of computing needed to analyse particle physics data is known as High Throughput Computing, a field in which CERN has played a pioneering role for over a decade. In the early 1990s, a collaboration of computer scientists from the Laboratory, led by Les Robertson, and physicists from many of CERN's Member States, developed a computing architecture called 'SHIFT', which allowed multiple tape, disk, and CPU servers to interact over high performance network protocols. SHIFT's modular design simultaneously allowed scalability and easy adoption of new technologies. Over the years, CERN has proven these features by evolving SHIFT from the systems of the 1990s, based on RISC workstations and specialised networks, to today's massive systems with thousands of Linux PC nodes linked by Gigabit Ethernet to hundreds of Terabytes of automated tape storage cached by dozens of Terabytes of caches based on commodity disk components.

CERN has since worked on evolving SHIFT in collaboration with physicists and engineers from universities and laboratories around the world. Several collaborations with industrial partners have been formed as successive technologies were integrated into the system. Today, SHIFT is in daily use by the many physics experiments that use CERN's facilities, providing a computing service for over 7000 researchers world-wide.

For the future, CERN and other particle physics institutes are working on scaling up this innovative architecture to handle tens of thousands of nodes, and incorporating computational Grid technology to link the CERN environment with other computing facilities, easing access to the colossal quantities of data that will be produced by experiments at the laboratory's forthcoming particle accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), which will switch on in 2006.

SHIFT has proven itself as an invaluable tool for particle physics, but the award requires more than that. As Patrick J. McGovern, Chairman of the Computerworld Honors Program Chairmen's Committee points out, 'Winners of the Computerworld Honors 21st Century Achievement Awards represent those organisations whose use of information technology has been especially noteworthy for the originality of its conception, the breadth of its vision, and the significance of its benefit to society'. With many other fields of research such as biology and Earth observation also anticipating a growing data wave, not to mention the home entertainment industry, it is in the near future that CERN's pioneering work will bring rewards to a wider community.

The Computerworld Honors Program brings together the Chairpersons or Chief Executive Officers of the one hundred foremost information technology companies in the world to help the world's leading universities, libraries, and research institutions document the global information technology revolution. The winners in each of ten categories, selected from more than 500 nominations submitted, were announced at a gala event in Washington, D.C., on June 4. Also among the winners this year was Tim Berners-Lee, who received the Cap Gemini Ernst & Young Leadership Award for Global Integration in recognition of his pioneering work on the World Wide Web - work carried out while Berners-Lee was at CERN in the early 1990s.


* CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, has its headquarters in Geneva. At present, its Member States are Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.   Israel, Japan, the Russian Federation, the United States of America, Turkey, the European Commission and Unesco have observer status.

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