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OpenStack Goes Inside Atoms, Across Galaxy

Researchers are using OpenStack to explore the basics of atomic physics, as well as looking ahead to build a vast telescopic array that will peer across the galaxy.

Mitch Wagner

October 25, 2016

4 Min Read
OpenStack Goes Inside Atoms, Across Galaxy

BARCELONA -- OpenStack Summit 2016 -- OpenStack is going from the inifinitesimal to the infinite. Researchers are using the cloud platform to look inside atoms today, while the builders of an innovative telescope array hope to use the software to peer across the galaxy and back 400 million years in time.

The two projects are very different from each other. What they have in common is that they're generating prodigious amounts of data, and looking to OpenStack to manage it all.

CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, is using OpenStack to manage data for several of its key experiments. These include the Large Hadron Collider, which at 27 kilometers around is "the largest machine on Earth," said Tim Bell, compute and monitoring group leader at CERN, during a keynote at OpenStack Summit Tuesday. The collider fires beams of photons at each other, measuring the results to determine the properties of subatomic particles. One key component for detecting collisions is a machine called the Compact Muon Solenoid. "It's a very strange term, given that it weighs 14,000 tonnes, to call it compact," Bell said.

CERN's computing infrastructure has to be able to handle 1 billion collisions per second. That demand is driving the need for OpenStack, Bell said.

And that's not the only experiment CERN is running. "I have the honor of having an antimatter factory just down the road from my office," Bell said. The apparatus assembles positrons, antiprotons and neutrons to make anti-hydrogen, which scientists experiment on to determine antimatter properties, such as whether antimatter rises in gravity.

All that science drives the need for a lot of compute. CERN stores 160 petabytes of data on tape, including 0.5 PB per day between June and August of this year. The organization anticipates a 60x compute increase by 2023, but the budget outlook for servers and people is flat, Bell said.

OpenStack helps CERN keep up with demand. CERN is using OpenStack on more than 190,000 cores in production, with more than 90% of CERN compute resources virtualized, 5,000 virtual machines migrated from old hardware in 2016, and more than 100,000 cores to be added in the next six months.

After Bell described how OpenStack is exploring the infinitesimal, the University of Cambridge's Dr. Rosie Bolton talked about OpenStack in the infinite. Or near-infinite, at any rate.

Figure 1: To Boldly Go Dr. Rosie Bolton, University of Cambridge Dr. Rosie Bolton, University of Cambridge

Bolton is part of a consortium building the Square Kilometer Array, a vast radio telescope due to go online in 2023. One part of the SKA will be located in the Western Australian desert, with 130,000 individual antennas in 512 clusters, over an 80-kilometer spread. The other part of the SKA will be in the Karoo desert in South Africa, with 197 antennas over 150 kilometers. The antennas will send data to Science Data Processors about 500 kilometers away from their separate antennas -- Perth, Australia and Cape Town, South Africa -- which then distribute the information around the world.

The antennas will be used to pick up signals going 400 billion years back in time, to observe the formation of the first stars. Separately, the SKA will observe several dozen pulsar stars spread around the galaxy. Pulsars send out pulses of radio activity with extremely precise regularity; by observing changes in the radio activity, astronomers hope to be able to detect gravity waves that span the galaxy.

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The compute needs for the SKA will be enormous. Computers will need to ingest 400 gigabytes per second, generate and destroy 1.3 zettabytes of data and then preserve and ship 1 petabyte per day of science data, Bolton said.

The SKA consortium will build the compute facility toward the end of the first phase of construction of the telescope arrays, which is due in 2023. Bolton said she hopes to pique the OpenStack community's interest now, so OpenStack becomes a suitable platform for that kind of science when the SKA is ready to build its compute center. "It's a long way off, but if we start now we hope to get the OpenStack community interested," Bolton said.

As part of its criteria, the SKA is looking to make the compute facility futureproof. It plans to have the telescope arrays online for 50 years, and needs a platform that can mature over that time and not need to be completely replaced.

— Mitch Wagner, Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profile, Editor, Light Reading Enterprise Cloud

About the Author(s)

Mitch Wagner

Executive Editor, Light Reading

San Diego-based Mitch Wagner is many things. As well as being "our guy" on the West Coast (of the US, not Scotland, or anywhere else with indifferent meteorological conditions), he's a husband (to his wife), dissatisfied Democrat, American (so he could be President some day), nonobservant Jew, and science fiction fan. Not necessarily in that order.

He's also one half of a special duo, along with Minnie, who is the co-habitor of the West Coast Bureau and Light Reading's primary chewer of sticks, though she is not the only one on the team who regularly munches on bark.

Wagner, whose previous positions include Editor-in-Chief at Internet Evolution and Executive Editor at InformationWeek, will be responsible for tracking and reporting on developments in Silicon Valley and other US West Coast hotspots of communications technology innovation.

Beats: Software-defined networking (SDN), network functions virtualization (NFV), IP networking, and colored foods (such as 'green rice').

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