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July 10, 2012

Helix Nebula Cloud Targets European Scientific Research

Robert Gelber

The scientific community is abuzz over the recent discovery of a Higgs-like particle based on experiments performed on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN. What is less well known is that the LHC researchers and other European scientists will soon have access to a new a cloud platform specifically designed for their computational needs. The project, known as the Helix Nebula was introduced in March to provide researchers with cloud-based computing and analytics resources.*

A partnership between IT service providers and scientific facilities, Helix Nebula consists of research institutions CERN, the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) and the European Space Agency (ESA). The program is currently undergoing a two-year pilot phase with €1.8 million in funding from the European Commission.  In addition to particle discovery research, the cloud has also assisted with studies in earth observation and molecular biology. During this pilot phase, scientists have deployed applications with tens of thousands of jobs across multiple datacenters.

Michael Symonds, principal architect for Atos, one of the cloud resource providers expressed positive feedback regarding the project’s status. “Setting up a public style cloud for very demanding research organizations is very different to providing private enterprise cloud services to companies,” he said. “It has taken a lot of effort but we are all pleased with these early results and are confident we can build on this in the future.”

In September, representatives from each of the Helix Nebula research facilities will deliver a keynote at the ISC Cloud’12 Conference in Mannheim, Germany. Wolfgang Gentszch, general chair of the event and contributor to HPCintheCloud, interviewed CERN’s Bob Jones, ESA’s Wolfgang Lengert, and EMBL’s Rupert Lueck to talk about the new science cloud. 

Jones explained the main difference between the science cloud and CERN’s previous LHC Computing Grid. “The [LHC Computing Grid] that has been essential to the LHC experiments’ work to observe a particle consistent with long-sought Higgs boson consists of publicly-managed data centers,” he explained. “Helix Nebula is a public-private partnership” In this case, research is being processed at commercial datacenters.

When asked what benefits the cloud would provide, Lengert mentioned that the infrastructure would simplify access to data, tools, models and a collaboration platform. The European space agency’s ERS/Envisat missions have resulted in datasets containing over two decades of information about the land, oceans, atmosphere and cryosphere. 

Looking to the future, Jones predicts additional collaborators and adopters to hop on board. “Assuming the pilot phase is successful,” he said, “we expect Helix Nebula to grow to include more commercial cloud services providers and public organizations as consumers.”

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*The original version of this article erroneously connected Helix Nebula to the Higgs boson discovery. Although the new cloud platform has demonstrated its ability to host applications that supported the LHC research work, the test runs were only used for the purpose of proof-of-concept. We regret the error — Editor

Full story at HPC in the Cloud

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