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CERN Unveils Global Grid For Particle Physics Research

The network can pull in the IT power of more than 140 computer centers in 33 countries to crunch an expected 15 million GB of data every year.
CERN, the world's largest particle physics lab and creator of the World Wide Web, on Friday launched a global computer network that links the IT power of data centers in 33 countries to provide the data-crunching muscle needed in conducting experiments on the nature of matter.

In addition, the Geneva-based European organization for nuclear research said it would officially inaugurate Oct. 21 its particle collider, the most complex scientific instrument on the globe. The inauguration will be held at CERN's headquarters with representatives of the member governments of CERN and other nations participating in experiments.

The CERN grid will allow thousands of scientists to process data related to particle physics experiments at the lab. The network pulls in the IT power of more than 140 computer centers in 33 countries to crunch an expected 15 million GB of data every year from experiments stemming from hundreds of millions of subatomic collisions expected inside CERN's Large Hadron Collider every second.

"The Worldwide LHC Computing Grid is a vital pillar of the LHC project," Jos Engelen, chief scientific officer for the LHC project, said in a statement. "It is an absolute necessity for analysis of the LHC data. It is the result of a silent revolution in large-scale computing over the last five years."

LHC, which includes a 17-mile tunnel in which particle beams travel during experiments, was first used Sept. 10, but was then shut down after 10 days of operation because of a leak. The repair isn't expected to be completed until November, when CERN's entire research infrastructure is shutdown for annual maintenance. The LHC, as well as the rest of the lab, is expected to reopen in the spring of 2009.

"While the timing is undoubtedly a disappointment, a few extra weeks on a project that has been over two decades in the making is not very much," CERN Director General Robert Aymar said in a statement. "It is simply a fact of life in experimental physics at the frontiers of knowledge and technology."

The grid relies on optical fiber networks to distribute data from CERN to 11 major computer centers in Europe, North America, and Asia. From these centers, the data is dispatched to the 140 centers that provide the power to manage the massive amount of data. The grid is capable of routinely processing 250,000 jobs a day, and can handle peaks of 500,000 jobs without problems, officials said. A single job can be a calculation that takes several hours or several days. The grid operates on about 100,000 computer processors.

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