A year and a half after the explosion in the port of Beirut, Lebanon is still struggling to recover from a serious economic and social crisis that has paralysed this partner state of CERN, which has four universities affiliated to the CMS collaboration. International solidarity is more necessary than ever to shore up the country’s tradition of academic excellence and support its scientific community. In this context, developments such as the donation of CERN computing equipment offer a glimmer of hope amidst Lebanon’s setbacks.
The long-awaited fruition of this project, known as HPC4L, was marked on Friday 14 January at a meeting between Joachim Mnich (CERN Director for Research and Computing), Enrica Porcari (Head of the Information Technology department at CERN), representatives of the Lebanese scientific community and of the foundations that have pledged financial support, and the Ambassador of Lebanon to the international organisations in Geneva. In 2016, the project, which was initiated by the CERN Adviser for the Middle East and North Africa Region, Martin Gastal, set out to boost Lebanon’s research capacity and secured the contribution of CERN, through the Organization’s Information Technology department, in the form of computer servers. The servers will make it possible to develop the computing capacity available to the Lebanese academic community in support of all kinds of research activities, including in high-energy physics. However, the servers could not be transported to Lebanon because of the crisis that was gripping the country, which reduced the funds available in the Lebanese institutes.
Thanks to a successful fundraising campaign, organised by the CMS collaboration and the Sharing Knowledge Foundation (SKF), the necessary funds have been raised to cover the cost of shipping the hardware, purchasing the equipment required to install it and training Lebanese technical staff at CERN. The international scientific community and the Lebanese diaspora, both of which proved particularly generous, helped make the fundraising campaign – and therefore the threatened project – a success, thereby illustrating their solidarity with Lebanon’s academic institutions and boosting the country’s research capacity. The commitment of the French embassy in Lebanon, which provides financial aid to participate in the training costs of the Lebanese personnel in charge of the operation and maintenance of the computer servers, has also facilitated the concrete implementation of the project.
Now that the funds have been raised, the servers will immediately set sail for Lebanon, where their new owners and users will be awaiting their arrival in the port of Beirut. CERN is sending 144 computing servers, containing a total of 3456 cores. In addition, CERN is supplying storage capacity by sending 24 disk servers that will provide over 1 petabyte. This equipment is donated from the CERN data centre, which forms the heart of the Worldwide LHC Computing Grid (WLCG). The WLCG is used to store and analyse data from the LHC experiments.
The equipment will then be installed in a dedicated computing centre that will be run by a public–private consortium whose technical staff will be trained at CERN by CMS experts once the installation of the servers, scheduled for March 2022, is complete. Once that final hurdle has been cleared, the universities will be able to start using the facility to develop their research and to participate in the WLCG, which includes 170 computing centres in 42 countries across the globe.
It has been a long and tortuous road since the project began, but a happy ending is now in sight, thanks to the perseverance of all those in Lebanon, Europe and around the world who have invested their time and resources to help consolidate scientific research in Lebanon.
Visit the dedicated website to find out more about the project and its partners (MoT/OGERO, AUB, LAU, USJ, LU, USEK, BAU, CNRS, Tamari Foundation, Eudoxia Foudation.
Since 2012, CERN has regularly donated computing equipment that no longer meets its highly specific requirements on efficiency but is still more than adequate for less exacting environments. To date, a total of 2524 servers and 150 network switches have been donated by CERN to countries and international organisations, namely Algeria, Bulgaria, Ecuador, Egypt, Ghana, Mexico, Morocco, Lebanon, Nepal, Palestine, Pakistan, the Philippines, Senegal, Serbia, and the SESAME laboratory in Jordan. CERN strives to maximise its positive impact on society: these donations can play an important role in providing opportunities for researchers and students in their home countries, thus helping to avoid so-called ‘brain-drain’ scenarios.