The computer data sets generated by the ATLAS experiment will be mind-boggling in their sheer volume. When the proton-proton collisions start in earnest, data will be produced fast enough to fill a CD every two seconds, or nearly three million CDs every year.
Physicists quickly realized that there was no way the computing resources at CERN or any other single institution could handle that much complex data. The solution: grid computing. By connecting computing resources around the world with ultra-fast fibre-optics, the grid will provide fast, flexible data access for ATLAS researchers in any of the 30-plus countries in which they reside.
“We don’t think we can do it any other way than by doing it with the grid,” says Randy Sobie, a UVic adjunct professor and researcher with the Institute of Particle Physics. “That’s sort of brought a lot of people together at CERN, in the US and around the world. Effectively, we’re building a single computing centre out of resources that are distributed. So, to the user it looks like one computing facility. He doesn’t know, if he submits a job, where it’s going to run. That complexity is hidden behind the grid.”
The grid analogy comes from electrical power grids. Plug a toaster in the wall and you have no idea where the electricity comes from. The same holds true for a researcher submitting a computer job to the ATLAS grid.
UVic will be part of the ATLAS grid, linked to the TRIUMF facility in Vancouver, which in turn will be linked to CERN with cables that will deliver data two or three thousand times faster than a typical household’s high speed internet connection.
These days, Sobie sometimes feels as much a computer scientist as a physicist, given the reliance on computers in modern research. “It’s quite substantial. When our grad students arrive, one of the first things we do is train them in computing because they don’t get much of that as undergrads. But it’s critical—for their analysis, and physics in general.”
When Protons Collide | The Power of
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