CERN Keeps Options Open With Its Clouds
Issues around federation of identity and distribution of workloads clearly matter to CERN, where petabytes of data are routinely generated by large — and expensive — projects that are of global interest. CERN’s ability to add additional computing resources on-site is severely constrained by a lack of power and space for larger data centers. Along with other European generators of big science, the European Space Agency (ESA) and European Molecular Biology Lab (EMBL), CERN participated for a number of years in a European Commission-funded project called Helix Nebula.
Helix Nebula should not be confused with the defunct NASA cloud project called Nebula, the open source cloud project called Open Nebula, or the failed OpenStack-based builder of cloud appliances called Nebula. Helix Nebula began as a research project, funded by the European Commission, and involving both the demand-side interests of large European science centers and the supply-side capabilities of cloud providers (like CloudSigma) and technology firms (like SAP). Together, they hoped to explore the ways in which a group of technology providers might collaborate and share resources to meet the rather specialized requirements of Big Science. The initial project finished some time ago, but the partners (and new additions) continue a loose collaboration as something called the Helix Nebula Initiative. They’ve developed a marketplace for cloud resources, and are promoting the long-rumored concept of a European Science Cloud with increasing vigor. CERN remains closely involved, with former openlab boss Bob Jones Chairing the Helix Nebula Initiative and authoring a recent paper on the European Science Cloud idea.