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CERN's open source commitment shows the IT industry how it's done

Column Open source IT is the future
Fri Aug 01 2014, 13:18

Linux penguinA PRESENTATION by the European nuclear research organisation CERN at the recent open source convention (OSCON) has provided a glimpse at where IT organisations are going to have to go in order to remain competitive. They will need to leave old legacy proprietary approaches behind and adopt open source.

CERN collects huge volumes of data every day from thousands of detectors at its nuclear collider ring located under the border between France and Switzerland near Geneva. It organises and archives all of this data and distributes much of it to research scientists located throughout the world over high-speed internet links. It presently maintains 100 Petabytes of legacy data under management, and collects another 35 Petabytes every year that it remains in operation. One Petabyte comprises one million Gigabytes.

Years ago, CERN realised that its data management challenge would completely overwhelm it unless it adopted open source methods. Therefore, it proactively developed its own Scientific Linux distribution based on Red Hat Linux and it took an active part in contributing to the development and use of open source hardware and software systems. It has virtualised its systems and employs many of the latest, cutting-edge approaches to capturing, archiving and distributing data.

During its talk at OSCON, CERN revealed that it has open source contributors on its staff. It uses Openstack hardware standards as it builds out its data centre infrastructure, and uses open source based software like Puppet and Ceph, along with other open source software utilities, tools and products. It revealed that within 12 months, Puppet will be managing 100,000 cores in its data centre.

CERN did the right thing. It rolled up its sleeves and got involved in open source at the basic level of developing its hardware and software infrastructure operations in collaboration with others in universities and IT industry firms - instead of seeking to outsource its data centre infrastructure to commercial vendors, though of course it does outsource the global telecommunications links that it maintains to universities, primarily in Europe and North America.

There's a lesson in CERN's success for governments and industry alike, however, and those organisations that pay attention and emulate it will be successful long term.

Even the UK government has recognised that open source offers the potential to provide IT services that better meet requirements at far lower cost than its legacy proprietary systems. UK cabinet minister Francis Maude made the proposal earlier this year to migrate UK government systems to open source software. That decision must have seemed almost prescient after it was revealed that the UK government paid £5.5m to Microsoft for just one year of continued security updates to its many obsolete Windows XP systems.

As proprietary firms like Microsoft move into charging exorbitant rental fees for software and services, the advantages of using open source will become even more compelling, both for the UK and other governments globally and corporations in all industry sectors.

The IT organisations that take notice of the lessons provided by the success of CERN's embrace of open source will gain immense benefits from following its lead, and will reap tremendous competitive advantages, starting now. µ

 

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