The Eureka Effect – CERN and NetApp

The Eureka effect, also known as the “Aha! effect”, describes that elating experience our minds go through upon solving that seemingly impossible problem.  What I find interesting is how quickly we adapt to the thinking of “why hadn’t I thought of that sooner” or “of course that is the way it should be done, how logical”.

The work at CERN (European Council for Nuclear Research) touches our lives every day.  It is reflected in the many Eureka moments people around the world experienced upon surfing the Internet for the first time or surfing that Internet through a touch screen Smart Tablet like the Apple iPad.

A key attribute of CERN is their globally disbursed high-energy physics community.  Back in 1989, out of necessity to assist collaboration and information sharing among the global physics community, Tim Berners-Lee a Scientist at CERN, envisioned and created what we know today as the World Wide Web.

To simplify the complexity of the computer interface used to operate the particle accelerator, CERN invented the Capacitive Touch Screen.  This touch screen technology is the same as what we have in our Smart Tablets and Phones today.  An interesting ‘side effect’ to this solution was it provided additional agility around being able to easily add and change the buttons, logically in the display, as requirements changed – which, at CERN they often did.

The big Eureka moment being strived for today at CERN is unlocking the secrets of the Universe.  Answering the question: “If what we see around us only makes up 5% of the Universe, what makes up the additional 95%?”  Being someone from NetApp I had quite a Eureka moment when I first came to understand how NetApp Technology uniquely enables these types of breakthroughs at CERN. At the core is NetApp Agile Data Infrastructure.

Having come from an Enterprise IT background, I understand firsthand the challenges in adapting IT to unpredictable and changing business requirements.  At CERN, the unpredictability lies in the very nature of what they do – colliding particles in attempt to answer big secrets about the Universe does have its unpredictability in data rates.  This is where NetApp Agile Data Infrastructure provides CERN the solution set to conquer not only this initial technological challenge but  to deliver on the IT needs around the research and development ecosystem to the global physics community.

At a fundamental level, IT organizations need to simultaneously manage performance scale and capacity scale. The method of providing for these challenges while keeping costs inline has traditionally been difficult. To address performance needs, faster disk technology needs to be acquired which typically caries a higher price tag. Large data sets, such as those at CERN, magnify these costs because more disk needs to be purchased.  With NetApp, CERN discovered that they could have the best of all worlds.  NetApp’s Agile Data Infrastructure enabled CERN to have the performance and availability levels equivalent to and, in some cases, greater than Fibre Channel disk but with the price and capacity attributes of SATA disk.  Magnifying this further, implementing these data sets with NetApp deduplication for primary storage not only further increased the density of SATA disks but also increased the performance due to the FlashCache containing more of the working dataset. Providing the best in class data availability, capturing higher disk resiliency than Fibre Channel disk, is NetApp RAID-DP, a highly efficient and performance double disk failure protection technology.

With cost efficient high capacity, reliability and performance as the fundamental starting point, the value to CERN’s breakthrough enabling environment doesn’t stop here.  Given the broad set of global physicists and the varying types of research being performed, multiple copies of the large datasets are required.  The business and technical challenge imposed is that these datasets need to be replicated and provisioned quickly.  It’s better to have the IT infrastructure wait on the physicists and not the other way around. To enable this, CERN uses NetApp FlexClone.  This technology enables highly efficient zero space copies of large data sets in seconds. The compounding effect of having these rich storage tools under one architecture is incredible.

With CERN bringing, to the world, a fundamentally different understanding on the laws of Physics and having NetApp as a uniquely fundamental strategy in doing so, provided me with my own Eureka moment.  And later I started thinking, off course, how logical. Given CERN’s track record of inventing and using technologies, which later become the de facto standard on the world stage, what does that say about their decision and success with NetApp today?

Happy exploring!

Click here for more information and a short video about CERN and NetApp.


Enjoyable article on an amazing accomplishment by CERN, and how they've relied on NetApp to help them achieve their goals. Thanks Tim.