A word from the Director-General

CERN openlab is a public-private partnership, through which CERN collaborates with leading ICT companies and other research institutions on R&D projects related to scientific computing. Today, a record 25 projects are underway, addressing topics such as machine learning, data analytics, big-data storage, and much more.

With the High-Luminosity Large Hadron Collider (HL-LHC) set to launch later this decade, it is crucial to ramp up work to address the associated ICT challenges (http://openlab.cern/whitepaper). Overall computing requirements are expected to increase by a large factor, and long-term data storage will go from the order of petabytes to exabytes. Furthermore, ICT challenges go far beyond those related to the handling of physics data from the experiments: there are also important challenges to be tackled related to accelerator control systems and the efficient running of our Organization.

Members of CERN’s research community are already exploring how to adapt many important processes to new computing architectures. The computing models used in scientific research are also becoming more flexible, with high-throughput computing, high-performance computing, and cloud computing all playing important roles. One of the primary drivers behind this is the move towards heterogeneous computing architectures.

As well as making sure the right hardware and software are in place, it is vital to build skills and knowledge around the new technologies. CERN openlab plays an important role in this, capitalising on its deep connections with industry to organise workshops and other training sessions for CERN’s community.

In particular, the CERN openlab summer-student programme plays an important role in training the ICT specialists of the future. In 2019, 40 students from 19 countries were selected from over 1600 applicants to the programme. It is always a great pleasure to welcome them at CERN and see them bring new ideas and fresh perspectives.

Speaking of new ideas, I am also pleased to see the investigations that CERN openlab has begun — in collaboration with leading industries — into state-of-the-art technologies like machine learning, neuromorphic computing, and quantum computing. To take the last of these as an example, CERN openlab is now participating in five different projects related to quantum computing, involving companies like Google and IBM.

It is crucial to explore the potential of emerging new modes of computing such as these, so as to make the right decisions about the computing models we will employ as our field and related ICT challenges evolve over this new decade. This work also helps us to be ready to adopt these technologies — by having both the right software and people with the right skills in place — when they do reach maturity. CERN openlab, with its strong network of experts from academia and industry, has an important role to play in this domain.

Read the full text in our 2019 annual report.