Many experiments – one shared data archive

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Physicists at FAU involved in a European project to create an open science cloud

Nowadays, a lot of people use clouds – services which are available entirely online. Photos can be saved and shared with others, music and videos downloaded or documents worked on together. What benefits could a cloud solution offer for research? This is the question currently being explored by 31 European institutions from the field of particle physics and astronomy, who have received a total of 16 million euros in funding from the European Union within the context of the Horizon 2020 programme. One of the project partners is the Erlangen Centre for Astroparticle Physics (ECAP) at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU), which is coordinating a sub-project worth 2.7 million euros, 660,000 euros of which have been allocated to Erlangen.

Science is not necessarily the first thing you would think of when you think of cloud computing. However, the advantages are quite clear to see – scientific data can be easily saved and shared with other researchers and the general public. In addition, software can be made freely available for anyone to use or develop further. These were the reasons behind the European Union’s decision to launch the ‘European Open Science CloudInitiative’ (EOSC) in 2015. The aim: a cloud environment for research data, allowing it to be accessed universally via a single online platform.

However, a number of challenges have arisen, particularly in the data-intensive field of fundamental research. Experiments can generate over an exabyte of data – one exabyte is equivalent to a billion gigabytes – which then still has to be thoroughly analysed. Not only that, data has to be saved for ten years or even longer. Bearing in mind that each experiment is unique, there is no standard form for data in this context along the lines of, for example, the MP3 standard in the music industry.

A total of 31 leading European institutions from the areas of particle physics and astronomy, led by the Institute of Nuclear and Particle Physics at the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), have been granted 16 million euros for their ESCAPE project. Over the next three years, they will work on integrating data, tools, services and scientific software into a shared cloud environment, developing a common approach for managing open data and establishing the EOSC as an integrated institution for fundamental research.

The FAU scientists are responsible for creating a software repository. This is a type of central warehouse for software in which all components and versions of the various programmes together with the relevant information can be accessed by the participating institutions. Once software stored there has been revised by a researcher, it can be accessed by all users. If programming work doesn’t have the results it was hoped, the previous versions are still available in the repository, together with a note that the latest development led to a dead end. The idea behind a software repository such as this is that programmes which were initially written for a specific experiment can be re-used as often as possible and a joint effort can be made to develop them further. Working in a sub project together with other European researchers, the ECAP physicists intend to draw up standards for open software and investigate data mining tools and new analysis techniques.

More information on ESCAPE and the institutions involved can be found at:

Further information:

Dr. Kay Graf

Phone: +49 9131 8527265