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How open source technology is being deployed in science

Countless industries have benefited immensely from utilizing open source software - with science and engineering among the sectors driving the charge.
Open source is playing a huge role in the field of science.

Given the transparent and collaborative nature of open source, it is no wonder that the technology is widely used all around the world. Countless organizations and industries have benefited immensely from open source software -- with science and engineering among the sectors driving the charge.

In an industry that heavily relies on technology and innovation, the deployment of open source initiatives in the scientific field should come as no surprise. In fact, CERN, one of the most revered names in the world of science, extensively uses open source software -- here's why.

What is CERN?

At CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, physicists and engineers are probing the fundamental structure of the universe.

They use the world's largest and most complex scientific instruments to study the basic constituents of matter - the fundamental particles. The particles are made to collide together at close to the speed of light. The process gives the physicists clues about how the particles interact, and provides insights into the fundamental laws of nature.

With its collaborative nature, open source - and the Linux operating system - were a seemingly natural fit.

The instruments used at CERN are purpose-built particle accelerators, like the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) and detectors. Accelerators boost beams of particles to high energies before the beams are made to collide with each other or with stationary targets. Detectors observe and record the results of these collisions. A highlight came for the organization in 2012 when the ATLAS and CMS experiments announced the existence of the enigmatic Higgs Boson, which had eluded scientists for decades.

As one of the undisputed leaders in particle physics, counting 21 member states and a global community from over 100 countries, information sharing and collaboration is essential. With its collaborative nature, open source - and the Linux operating system - were a seemingly natural fit.

Linux's place in CERN history

The story of CERN and Linux is a prime example of how collaboration can bring universal benefits to partners and to the wider community.

For instance, CERN, together with Fermilab and various other labs and universities around the world, developed Scientific Linux. It is derived from Red Hat Enterprise Linux and its primary purpose is to reduce duplicated efforts of the laboratories, and to have a common installation base for the various experimenters.

Historically, CERN has played a major role in the development of the open source movement. In the early 1990s, Sir Tim Berners-Lee helped to forever change communication by releasing all HTML and web server code -- thus sparking the birth of the World Wide Web. After 30 April 1993, when CERN put the World Wide Web software in the public domain, the next release was made available with an open license as a more sure way to maximize its dissemination.

Cloud storage critical for CERN

CERN's connection to open source does not end with one of the most significant developments in the history of information systems. The organization also relies on a solid cloud infrastructure to facilitate the storage and sharing of data, and as such, is one of the biggest contributors to the Ceph open source storage project.

One of the stand out features of Ceph is that it operates on the CRUSH (Controlled Replication Under Scalable Hashing) algorithm, which facilitates the even spread of data for improved efficiency and reduced bottlenecks.

Earlier this year, Red Hat acquired Inktank, the company that produces Ceph. This will no doubt further strengthen the ties between CERN and Red Hat, in addition to helping further promote the open source philosophy that can so benefit many industries.

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