How Can the Large Hadron Collider Withstand One Petabyte of Data a Second?
Thursday, September 16, 2010 at 6:54AM
Todd Hoff

Why is there something rather than nothing? That's the kind of question the Large Hadron Collider in CERN is hopefully poised to answer. And what is the output of this beautiful 17-mile long, 6 billion dollar wabi-sabish proton smashing machine? Data. Great heaping torrents of Grand Canyon sized data. 15 million gigabytes every year. That's 1000 times the information printed in books every year. It's so much data 10,000 scientists will use a grid of 80,000+ computers, in 300 computer centers , in 50 different countries just to help make sense of it all.

How will all this data be collected, transported, stored, and analyzed? It turns out, using what amounts to sort of Internet of Particles instead of an Internet of Things.

Two good articles have recently shed some electro-magnetic energy in the human visible spectrum on the IT aspects of the collider: LHC computing grid pushes petabytes of data, beats expectations by John Timmer on Ars Technica and an overview of the Brookhaven's RHIC/ATLAS Computing Facility. These articles explain the system well, so I won't repeat it all here, I'll just touch on some of the highlights.


For Main Detectors Generate the Data

First we need to know what produces the data: detectors that implement particular science experiments. The detectors are sensors that "watch" the collision for various attributes and send those samples on for analysis. In principle these are no different than a temperature sensor, but in practice some of the detectors have more parts than the Space Station.

There are four main detectors: 

I love the image conjured up by Physicist Brian Cox when says how these four giant experiments, ATLAS, CMS, LHCb and ALICE, “photograph” the resulting miniature “big bangs.” To give an idea of the scale here, more than 2,000 other physicists from 37 countries will work on ATLAS. That's BIG science.


Some of the interesting factoids about the system, taken from the above mentioned articles, and from some great comments, are:

A Few Lessons Learned

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