by Federico Carminati. Published: 03 November 2010

ALICE’s computer network grew in size last month with the addition of two grid nodes provided by our new colleagues in Islamabad. Linked in the face of the flooding which has recently plagued their country, the facilities will enable Pakistani scientists to participate in the work being undertaken here at CERN.

First contact between ALICE and Pakistani scientists dates back to 2006. In order to join the ALICE collaboration, new institutes are required to provide contributions to both the physics, and the detector itself. While this was simple for those that participated in the detector’s original construction, it is much more difficult for those institutions joining today, now that the experiment is built.


The ALICE Grid network - showing the two new nodes in Pakistan.

ALICE’s computational requirements are very large, and the quality of the results is dependent on the amount of computing resources available. The development of grid technology - the global connection of different computer systems, working together - is a breakthrough of our time. The capability to seamlessly connect differing, high-end, computational resources from across the globe into one infrastructure enables newcomers to contribute by adding their local computing facilities to the ALICE grid.

This connection allows them to be completely integrated into the ALICE data processing and analysis system. The Grid offers unprecedented access to state-of-the-art computer science and physics research.

This was well understood by our colleagues in Pakistan, who have steadily worked with us to set up two nodes to be added to the ALICE grid infrastructure. The first is at the computer centre of the Commission on Science and Technology for Sustainable Development in the South’s (COMSATS) Institute of Information Technology, and the other resides at the Pakistan National Centre for Physics, both of which are located in Islamabad.

After an initial setup phase, a computing engineer from COMSATS came to the ALICE Offline group at CERN for six months - to acquire the necessary grid technologies and start setting up the node from here, in collaboration with his colleagues back in Islamabad. Soon after he returned to his home institute the new node appeared on the ALICE grid monitoring chart.

Progress has been steady, in spite of some practical difficulties; specifically, the flooding that has recently troubled most of the country. It is to the credit of our Pakistani colleagues that they managed, in such difficult conditions, to continue setting up the two nodes. These were finally joined to the ALICE grid, with full functionality, in October.

They are now running jobs involving reconstruction and analysis of collision data. Thanks to this co-operation, now not only has the ALICE computing network acquired new CPUs and storage space, but our Pakistani colleagues now have full access to the whole of our computational infrastructure and data. This enables them to participate on an equal footing with the other physicists in ALICE in the quest for scientific progress.

This happy event, which takes place on the eve of the heavy ion collisions, is an outstanding example of how technology can help overcome practical barriers and extend the reach of scientific collaboration.

Federico Carminati is the computing co-coordinator at ALICE.