The largest particle physics laboratory in the world, the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), is joining the computing fight against COVID-19. CERN, which is the home of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), is contributing computing resources to [email protected]: the massive, crowdsourced network of volunteer computers that turned its eye toward COVID-19 months ago.
The [email protected] software, which was created by Dr. Vijay Pande’s lab at Stanford University, can be run on desktop computers, allowing users to donate their computer’s resources to researchers working with the [email protected] team. In February, Greg Bowman, director of [email protected], issued a call to action asking for more volunteers to help the researchers understand the moving parts of the coronavirus’ notorious “spike” protein. The resulting data from this research can then be leveraged by other research teams to find ways to disable the critical protein in its various forms.
Since that call to action, millions of computers have contributed to [email protected]’s work, a staggering increase over its numbers prior to the pandemic. Two weeks ago, [email protected] estimated its aggregate computing power at 2.4 exaflops.
Now, CERN is adding some of its considerable computing power to those numbers. The organization is contributing “about 10,000” cores from its main datacenter. “The contribution from the CERN datacenter comes from machines that were due to be retired,” explained Jan van Eldik, who leads resource provisioning within CERN’s Compute and Monitoring Group. “We have quickly developed a procedure to start virtual machines running [email protected] on CERN’s OpenStack cloud using these resources.”
Still, the datacenter does not comprise the bulk of CERN’s contribution: resources from LHC computing sites are driving almost twice as many work units through [email protected] “With the collaboration of the LHC experiments, we have shared similar ‘recipes’ to maximise the contribution of available nodes to [email protected] with computing sites across the Worldwide LHC Computing Grid [WLCG],” said Simone Campana, WLCG project leader.
In total, CERN is now the 27th biggest contributor to [email protected], up from 87th just ten days ago – and CERN isn’t stopping there. “Here at CERN, we have also offered to provide support for the server infrastructure of [email protected], if needed,” said Ian Bird, who served as WLCG project leader until January 2020.