Tackling tomorrow's computing challenges today at the 2021 CERN openlab technical workshop

CERN openlab held its annual technical workshop on 9-11 March. Due to the pandemic, the 200 participants joined the workshop this year via Zoom.

CERN openlab is a unique public-private partnership, through which CERN collaborates with leading technology companies to accelerate innovation in the computing technologies required by the LHC research community. Today, there are over 20 companies and research organisations working together in CERN openlab. Member companies include Intel, Oracle, Siemens, Micron and Google.

There are currently 34 joint R&D projects being carried out through CERN openlab. These are all related to computing technologies, but are spread across departments at CERN, as well as across experiments. CERN openlab’s annual technical workshop is an opportunity for those working on these projects to come together — along with representatives of the external members of the collaboration — to discuss the latest developments.

“We would like to thank each of the project teams for their excellent work in 2020,” says Maria Girone, CERN openlab CTO. “It was great to see the innovative ways in which the project teams are working to tackle the computing challenges we face — particularly those related to the ambitious upgrade programme for the LHC.”

The workshop was spread across three days, with each afternoon (local time) dedicated to one of three technology pillars: Tuesday was dedicated to exascale high-throughput and high-performance computing technologies, Wednesday to artificial intelligence (AI), and Thursday to quantum technologies. “Technologies from each of these areas will likely play an important role in the future of scientific computing” says Sofia Vallecorsa, CERN openlab’s lead researcher into quantum and AI. “Over the longer term, there is significant potential, for example, in the overlap between quantum computing and machine-learning technologies.”

Another important aspect of CERN openlab’s work is its support for communities beyond high-energy physics. The second half of Wednesday’s session was dedicated to these activities. Projects were presented related to biology, healthcare, Earth observation and humanitarianism. External collaborators on these projects include UNOSAT and the European Space Agency, as well as several leading universities. “With an increasing number of research fields becoming ever more data driven, we’re keen to help others by sharing tools and expertise developed at CERN,” says Fons Rademakers, CERN openlab CRO. “Plus, we see other laboratories facing similar computing challenges to those we have identified here at CERN. As such, there’s enormous value in working together to tackle these challenges — especially when we can count on support from leading technology companies too.”

The event was closed by Alberto Di Meglio, the head of CERN openlab. He presented a high-level roadmap for CERN openlab’s new three-year phase, which is now getting underway. In his presentation, Di Meglio also highlighted CERN openlab’s upcoming 20th anniversary, which will be celebrated later this year. Following the success of last year’s online Webfest, 2021 will also see a further increase in the number of online training and education activities offered by CERN openlab in response to the pandemic.

Di Meglio also heads CERN’s new Quantum Technology Initiative, launched in 2020. With the final day of the event being dedicated primarily to quantum computing, this provided an excellent opportunity to showcase the ways in which CERN openlab projects are contributing to this exciting new initiative. CERN openlab has been exploring quantum technologies since 2018 and is today working on a range of R&D projects with leading companies in the field, including IBM, Google and Cambridge Quantum Computing.

“The workshop is an important opportunity for stakeholders across CERN and the participating companies and institutes to discuss the ways in which we can accelerate innovation in computing technologies,” says Di Meglio. “Together, we are shaping an R&D programme for the coming years — focused on exascale, AI, and quantum technologies — that will provide important support to the LHC research community, as well as to other scientific fields. This work will play a vital role in helping our community to tackle the computing challenges posed by the High-Luminosity LHC, thus helping us to unlock the machine’s full potential.”

Presentations from the workshop are now available on the event’s Indico page: https://indico.cern.ch/e/COTW21. Find out more about each of the R&D projects carried out through CERN openlab on the collaboration’s website: https://openlab.cern/. The next CERN openlab annual report will be published during the second quarter of 2021; it will include the latest details on all investigations. Those interested in collaborating in CERN openlab should contact openlab-communications@cern.ch.