The European Organisation for Nuclear Research, better known as CERN, has added Oracle as a new member to its testing unit for advanced grid computing technology.

Like the other four members of the CERN testing facility, called openlab for DataGrid applications, Oracle will contribute €1.5 million (US$1.8 million) over a three-year period toward equipment and funding of young research fellows, said Francois Grey, a spokesman for Geneva-based CERN. The company will test its new 10GB database software on systems provided by openlab partners and others, he said.

The openlab unit focuses on testing advanced computer technologies that CERN plans to use for operating its Large Hadron Collider (LHC) presently under construction. The lab feeds directly into the research group's LHC Computing Grid (LCG) programme, which aims to connect tens of thousands of computers around the world to help process and store data generated by the collider.

The collider project will require a minimum 15 petabytes of storage per year and anywhere between 50,000 and 100,000 processors, depending on chip advances made from now until 2007 when the collider is slated to begin, Grey said. A petabyte is 1 million gigabytes.

"Presently, we are able to store up to 1 petabyte," the spokesman said. "Add to that a decade of operation and you can imagine what sort of storage requirements we face."

The LCG programme will also be a major contributor to the new Enabling Grids for E-science in Europe (EGEE) program of the European Union (EU), according to Grey. The programme, to begin next year, aims to establish advanced grid computing infrastructure for all branches of science. The project is "one of the largest grid projects ever funded," with a four-year budget of €100 million of which the EU will contribute €32 million, he said.

Other openlab partners include Enterasys Networks, Hewlett-Packard (HP), IBM and Intel. Each is contributing a specific noncompeting technology to the LCG program: Enterasys is providing high-speed network technology, HP servers, IBM storage systems and Intel its Itanium processors.

The testing lab is open to other members, according to Grey. "We expect some smaller companies with specialised technology to join as we move ahead," he said.

"Openlab is a window to future technologies," Grey said. "We offer a rigorous testing environment where we're telling companies that what they make, we're going to try to break -- even if Oracle's advertising slogan is 'unbreakable technology.'"

One of the lab's main missions is to establish a roadmap for purchasing equipment "several years out," the spokesman said. "We need to know what technologies best meet our needs in 2007 and beyond. That's a challenge."

In addition to testing technology, openlab researchers are addressing issues such as grid mobility and grid security. "When the project starts up in a couple of years, we expect many scientists will be doing much of their computing on portable devices as they travel around the world," Grey said. "The challenge will be to make access both easy and secure."

Additional information about grid computing and CERN's activities in this area is available at: