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SKA and CERN sign Big Data agreement

14/07/17Science & Technology

The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) and CERN, the European Laboratory for Particle Physics, have signed an agreement formalising their growing collaboration in the area of extreme-scale computing.

The agreement establishes a framework for collaborative projects that addresses joint challenges in approaching Exascale computing and data storage (an exabyte (EB) represents one billion gigabytes (GB)), and comes as the LHC will generate even more data in the coming decade, and as SKA is preparing to collect a vast amount of scientific data.

The SKA project, the world’s largest radio telescope when built, and CERN’s LHC, the world’s largest particle accelerator, famous for discovering the Higgs Boson particle, will contribute in driving the required technological developments.

Professor Philip Diamond, SKA director general, said: “The signature of this collaboration agreement … shows that we are really entering a new era of science worldwide. Both CERN and SKA are and will be pushing the limits of what is possible technologically, and by working together with industry, we are ensuring that we are ready to make the most of this upcoming data and computing surge.”

Professor Eckhard Elsen, CERN director of research and computing, added: “The LHC computing demands are tackled by the worldwide LHC computing grid which employs more than half a million computing cores around the globe, interconnected by a powerful network. As our demands increase with the planned intensity upgrade of the LHC, we want to expand this concept by using common ideas and infrastructure into a scientific cloud. SKA will be an ideal partner in this endeavour.”

CERN and SKA have identified the acquisition, storage, management, distribution, and analysis of scientific data as particularly burning topics to meet the technological challenges.

As is already the case at CERN, SKA data will be analysed by scientific collaborations distributed across the planet. There will be common computational and storage resource needs by both institutions and their respective researchers, with a shared challenge of taking this volume of data and turning them into science that can be published, understood, explained, reproduced, preserved and presented.

Antonio Chrysostomou, head of science operations planning for the SKA, said: “Processing such volumes of complex data to extract useful science is an exciting challenge that we face. Our aim is to provide that processing capability through an alliance of regional centres located across the world in SKA member countries. Using cloud-based solutions, our scientific community will have access to the equivalent of today’s 35 biggest supercomputers to do the intensive processing needed to extract scientific results. In short, we need to fundamentally change how science is done.”

As part of the agreement, CERN and SKA will hold regular meetings to monitor progress and discuss the strategic direction of their collaboration.