Our history

CERN PHOTOWALK 2010 - Computer Centre - Yousef Elbes
(Image: CERN)


Our history

CERN openlab Phases

CERN openlab is a unique public-private partnership, through which CERN collaborates with leading technology companies and other research organisations. Together we work to accelerate the development of cutting-edge computing technologies for the research community.

CERN openlab operates within structured three-year phase cycles designed to systematically assess technological evolution, anticipate future needs, and delineate overarching thematic priorities. This approach ensures the maintenance of a relevant and current research programme, fostering effective collaborations and innovative advancements.

Upon joining CERN openlab, members gain access to a unique ecosystem characterised by unparalleled computing challenges, ground-breaking scientific endeavours, and pioneering minds. This environment serves as a crucible for the development and demonstration of emerging technologies, providing a platform for industry leaders to showcase their potential and validate solutions through realistic, demanding use cases. This process often leads to tangible enhancements in product features and capabilities.

In addition to impactful technical progress, CERN openlab members’ have a valuable opportunity to boost their global reputation. Affiliation with a renowned institution like CERN elevates participants’ visibility and stature within broader scientific and technological communities. CERN openlab represents the convergence of cutting-edge science, collaborative exploration of disruptive technologies, and extensive visibility, resulting in tangible strategic benefits for its members.

Evolution of the Collaboration Model

Inception (Phases I-IV)

CERN openlab was founded in 2001 at a time of great technological upheaval due to the transition from mainframe to commodity computing. Initially, large industrial partners were attracted to participate and invest in the design and construction of the computing infrastructures for the LHC. A number of top industry leaders joined CERN openlab, some of which are still actively involved. With the help of companies like Intel, IBM, and HP, CERN openlab navigated the challenges of transitioning the CERN IT data centre to modern x86 64-bit processors, multi-core devices, high-performance networking, and petabyte storage. CERN openlab’s collaboration with Oracle helped to establish high availability and redundancy for the critical online databases needed for detector operations. At the time, CERN was doing something nobody else was doing: defining the new worldwide reference for big data scientific research.

Consolidation (Phases V-VII)

The second decade of CERN openlab coincided with LHC operation and a need for higher stability and reliability. At the same time, the technology market became more dynamic and fragmented, with a larger number of smaller companies and even start-ups showcasing innovative technologies. The CERN openlab operating model evolved to focus on shorter development/evaluation cycles and more targeted technology interests. We expanded the programme for the benefit of the accelerator and detector operations and defined a new model to collaborate with universities and research centres sharing challenges at the data and computer science level with a broader multi-disciplinary view. The number of partners grew towards a broader portfolio of smaller agile projects

The Next Phases (Phase VIII and Beyond)

CERN, along with the High Energy Physics (HEP) community, is gearing up for the HL-LHC program and the future of particle physics. Building upon the achievements of the initial decade of LHC operations, marked by swift advancements in computing architectures, infrastructures, algorithms, and disruptive technologies, CERN openlab is poised to harness these changes. With its extensive network spanning industry and academia, CERN openlab is uniquely positioned to validate and integrate emerging technology capabilities while facilitating access to novel infrastructures.

To address the impending challenges, CERN openlab is reviewing its operational framework, notably restructuring industry membership into two tiers: Associate and Partner (refer to membership levels and governance sections).

CERN openlab will build on its consolidated agile mechanism that facilitates the definition of practical projects, to remain an efficient vehicle for innovation. Projects typically span between 1 to 3 years, an optimal duration to yield actionable outcomes aligned with the latest technological advancements. This framework represents an ideal mechanism to nurture initial collaborations that can evolve into long-term programmes, but also to promote new partnerships and cultivate diverse networking avenues.

In the coming years, CERN openlab will introduce additional tools to facilitate sustained, long-term collaborations, serving as a platform not only for partnership preparation but also as a “training ground” for IT professionals seeking to expand their skill sets into project management and broader coordination roles.