CERN Unlocks Secrets Of The Universe With NetApp Storage

As you read this, thousands of scientists around the world are sifting through seemingly limitless amounts of data from CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC), searching for proof of new fundamental particles that could unlock the secrets of the universe.

The elusive Higgs boson particle is one of the last pieces of a puzzle that will describe how all matter fits together, from our DNA to the billions of galaxies in our universe. To find it, physicists at CERN, the world’s largest center for research in particle physics, crash trillions of protons together in the LHC, the world’s largest particle accelerator, in the hope that even one collision will produce a Higgs particle.

These experiments create 600 million collisions per second, generating data at a jaw-dropping 1 million GB every second. Even after that data is filtered, CERN is left with more than 20PB of data each year from its experiments, all of which must be stored permanently and distributed to physicists around the world for analysis.


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Oracle databases, all running on NetApp storage, support everything from administration to the experiments—even the running of the accelerator itself. The accelerator database, which is growing at a rate of 50TB per year and now features more than 4.1 trillion rows of data, controls the conditions within the accelerator. It takes three weeks to warm up the magnets in the LHC and three weeks to cool them off, so any break in the data would be a huge setback for scientists and the organization.

Finding a Needle in 20 Million Haystacks
“The biggest challenges for the CERN IT department,” says Frédéric Hemmer, head of the IT department at CERN, “are certainly the volume of data and the data rates.” Even at its current growth rate, the data must be protected and available for use by future generations of scientists. With an agile data infrastructure from NetApp, CERN has never lost a block of data. Nondisruptive operations provide 24/7 access to scientists at CERN and around the world. “Even when the LHC is not running,” says Hemmer, “the IT never stops. The analysis continues at CERN and worldwide.

If it exists, the Higgs boson particle will decay long before it can be detected. Scientists must gather and analyze massive quantities of data from billions of collisions just to catch the moment in time that proves its existence. Finding the Higgs particle would not be like finding a needle in a haystack; it would be like finding a needle in 20 million haystacks.

On July 4, 2012, CERN announced the latest preliminary results in its search for the now-famous particle. A particle “consistent with the Higgs boson” was observed, but positive identification of the new particle’s characteristics will take considerable time—and more data. As one of the greatest scientific quests of our time comes to a dramatic close, the world wants to know: Has CERN found the Higgs boson?


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Pushing the Limits of Agility
On the surface, CERN is like no other place on the planet. But dig down to the IT, and it’s like every other organization challenged by monumental data growth and the complexity of managing data at scale. CERN relies on an agile data infrastructure enabled by NetApp that is Intelligent, Immortal, and Infinite.

Intelligent: CERN has been able to manage its ever-growing volumes of data, achieving storage utilization rates of up to 75% and decreasing its IT footprint by 2 times what would ordinarily be required.

Immortal: CERN leverages RAID-DP technology and Data ONTAP operating in Cluster-Mode to deliver nondisruptive operations and nonstop data availability. Any break in service to the accelerator database would stop the LHC. NetApp storage helps to avoid such breaks.

 • Infinite: CERN is able to achieve its “keep-forever” data strategy through the scalability enabled by Data ONTAP Cluster-Mode. Says Hemmer, “Researchers may want to access data years after it was collected, so we never, never throw away data.”

For more information on how Data ONTAP enables an agile data infrastructure, visit the NetApp Tech OnTap community , which offers monthly updates on best practices, technical case studies, and in-depth interviews with engineering experts.

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