Cloud science: Europe's Helix Nebula

Sunday 4th March 2012
Helix Nebula logo and the gaseous envelope of dying star.

A consortium of 16 leading IT providers and three of Europe’s biggest research centres (CERN, EMBL and ESA) have announced a partnership that will launch a European cloud computing platform to support the massive IT requirements of European scientists, and that will subsequently be available to governmental organisations and industry, after its initial pilot phase.

The partnership is working to establish a sustainable European cloud computing infrastructure, supported by industrial partners, which will provide stable computing capacities and services that elastically meet demand. This pan‐European partnership across academia and industry is in line with the Digital Agenda of the European Commission and will foster innovation for science and create new commercial markets.

During a two‐year pilot phase, Helix Nebula will be deployed and tested based on three flagship projects proposed by CERN, EMBL and ESA. The projects are to accelerate the search for the elusive Higgs particle, to boost large‐scale genomic analyses in biomedical research, and support research into natural disasters.

First, CERN, the European laboratory for particle physics, will have access to more computing power to process data from the ATLAS experiment at its Large Hadron Collider accelerator.

“CERN’s computing capacity needs to keep‐up with the enormous amount of data coming from the LargeHadron Collider and we see Helix Nebula ‐ the Science Cloud as a great way of working with industry to meet this challenge,” said Frédéric Hemmer, (right) head of CERN’s IT department.

Second, the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) is setting up a new service to simplify the analysis of large genomes, such as those from mammals, allowing a deeper insight into evolution and biodiversity across a range of organisms.

“The quantities of genomic sequence data are vast and need for high performance computing infrastructures and bioinformatics expertise to analyse these data poses a challenge for many laboratories.

"EMBL’s novel cloud‐based whole‐genome‐assembly and annotation pipeline involves expertise from the Genomics Core Facility at EMBL Headquarters in Germany, EMBL’s European Bioinformatics Institute, and EMBL Heidelberg's IT Services.

"It will allow scientists, at EMBL and around the world, to overcome these hurdles and provide the right infrastructure on demand,” said (left) Rupert Lueck, EMBL head of IT services.

Third, the European Space Agency (ESA), in partnership with the Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales (CNES) in France, and the German Aerospace Center (DLR) is collaborating with the National Research Council (CNR)in Italy, to create an Earth observation platform focusing on earthquake and volcano research. 

This is done in the framework of Group on Earth Observations (GEO), a voluntary partnershipof governments and international organisations.

Volker Liebig, (right) ESA director for Earth observation programmes, said, “Helix Nebula‐ the Science Cloud is a partnership with the potential to support an utmost exploitation of ESA satellite data, as well as to bring other communities on board to better understand the geophysical phenomena of our planet.”

The commercial partners are Atos, Capgemini , CloudSigma, Interoute , Logica , Orange Business Services, SAP, SixSq , Telefonica, Terradue, Thales, The Server Labs  and T‐Systems, along with the Cloud Security Alliance , the OpenNebula Project and the European Grid Infrastructure (EGI).
They are working together to establish a federated,secure high‐performance computing cloud platform. 

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