by Panos Charitos. Published: 13 December 2013

During the last year, Catherine Decosse and Stefan Boettger have been collaborating closely with the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) in order to create the new ALICE Membership system. The new system integrates, in an efficient way, functionalities in accordance with the requirements of the Run2 of the LHC and the continuous growth of the ALICE collaboration.

Stefan has been working with the ALICE HLT group in the University of Frankfurt, from where he has recently received his PhD. Last year, Stefan rebuilt and extended the previous postgres database with an improved Oracle schema. As soon as he arrived, he started checking the existing database and removing any inconsistencies. Stefan explains: “Several people didn’t have an institute contract, were not CERN members anymore or existed twice in the database. We started by analysing the old data for mistakes and double-registrants”. This analysis was done using Python and PL/SQL scripts, yet it was not sufficient. A lot of manual work was needed to ensure that the data in the database reflected reality. In the end, they had the contracts compared with the records in CERN’s database. It has been a time-consuming task but, as they explain, starting from scratch was necessary. Then, the cleaned data was migrated to the new schema. This schema is now part of a highly-available Oracle database which is hosted and maintained by CERN-IT.

Following the migration of the data, a web application was developed in order to deliver the needed functionalities for the ALICE collaboration. Glance, a framework that retrieves data from different databases, independently from their location, modelling, terminology and technology has been chosen. Heron Henrique Martins Silva, a student in the Electronics and Computing Engineering Department of the UFRJ, worked closely with the team that developed Glance. He says: “I started building intuitive functionalities with friendly interfaces for the whole collaboration to manage the data of the collaboration i.e. handling information about the members, affiliated institutes, authors list and thesis”.

Catherine Decosse, who steered the project, says: “Some parts were a bit challenging as I am not a computer scientist, thus in order to succeed I tried to adopt the end-user’s point of view”. Before starting working in the new Membership system, Catherine Decosse made some research about the tools that the other collaborations used to manage their databases. Together with Werner Riegler they met members of the ATLAS Collaboration and listened to their experience from the existing tools. Immediately, they started thinking about the key features of the current system and how ALICE could profit from Glance’s facilities. Catherine also acknowledges the great help that was offered by the group of Udo Kebschull in the University of Frankfurt.

In the beginning of the project, Catherine clearly defined the aims of building a new Management system. She consulted many people in order to understand their requirements and expectations. Stefan adds: “There was always a feedback channel and there is always room for further improvements. What is important is that from a technical point of view we have a very clean approach and we can always extend it”.

Catherine, Stefan and Heron, in close connection with the Glance team, followed an incremental approach. They progressively released different versions each time, asking for users' feedback and developing certain parts of the web system. First, they added information about the members and their institutes, the funding agencies and the PhD theses. Later, they integrated the service tasks, as well as the various appointments and activities along with statistics. Catherine notes: “this approach allowed improving the ALICE Membership system based on the real needs of the users.”

The first phase of the work was accomplished in September but the team continued to add new functionalities like the service tasks, appointments and list of activities. One of the major improvements has been that e-groups can easily be created based on the attributes of the database. Another new functionality is the automated e-mail notifications that will be sent to people with certain roles, informing them about important changes. Finally, the new system significantly improves the way the authors’ list is created, which used to be a very demanding task.

The next phase is to integrate the shift management in the ALICE Membership system, in order to create a platform that will meet the needs of the run coordination. It will allow for a better management of the shift accounting and make it easier to book a slot. That’s the upcoming project on which Heron and the Glance team will work with Gilda Scioli and Federico Ronchetti. Next year, Adriana Telesca as the new Resource Coordinator will steer the project and check the integration of all the new functionalities.

Managing a big collaboration like ALICE means that you need the right tools to handle this large amount of information. Catherine explains: “We were lacking this type of tools and the new system offers perfect features for us to quickly access data and extract useful information in order to run the collaboration”. The new ALICE Membership system allows the efficient management and coordination of activities within the collaboration.

Glance Team in Federal University of Rio de Janeiro

Glance at a glance

Glance is software system to retrieve information from heterogeneous and globally distributed databases. The development started in 2004 within the ATLAS Experiment and since then, new functionalities and enhancements are integrated to the core of this technology. Glance automatically generates Search Interfaces, guiding users to select attributes and corresponding operators, thus isolating the user from the particularities of each repository. This approach also allows the integration of different storages. A high-level representation of the database structure facilitates the development of insert interfaces and importation and update mechanisms. Glance also provides additional tools such as an online CSV, XML exportations. Behind Glance, there is a group of software engineers and students, coordinated by Carmen Maidantchik (UFRJ/ATLAS), that develops several web systems for ATLAS, ALICE and LHCb systems. Since the beginning, the Glance project has been supported by Kathy Pommes (ATLAS); quite often at CERN, many improvements that arise from one collaboration benefit other experiments and research institutes around the world.