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The data from the LHC experiments will be distributed around the world. A primary backup will be recorded on tape at CERN. After initial processing, this data will be distributed to 11 Tier-1 centres, large computer centres with sufficient storage capacity. Smaller (Tier-2) centres will handle the analysis of specific tasks.

Processing this data requires the power of around 100,000 desktop CPUs, a figure that's stayed the same at CERN for around seven years. Processor speed increases have kept track with the growth in data that colliders generate. Advances in communication technology have allowed CERN to bring in partner organisations in its research.

David Foster, head of communications systems at CERN, runs the team behind this behemoth network. He's also responsible for a campus network that supports 2,500 staff at CERN and thousands of visiting scientists, as well as mobile and Wi-Fi infrastructures for the lab, and hundreds of kilometers of cables in the underground installations at CERN.

"Changes in networking have enabled a rethink of our whole business model. We can have a global research network - rather than one that is centrally located thanks to advances in communications technology," he said.

Moving data onto storage and then off to be processed is a major headache, Foster explained. Tape is still the most effective way to store data, but it brings its own problems. "Tape is slow and not progressing particularly quickly. Solid state memory and solid state storage are important things to look at," Foster told delegates at the NetEvents conference in Malta last week. "Fast networks alone are not enough."

He said the LHC would seek to answer questions such as "where do particles get mass", and other fundamental questions of physics. The project is costing a cool $5bn but it's money well spent, Foster argues.

"Quite apart from the possible spin-off if we fail to look into the fundamentals of the universe we lose so much. It's in human nature to be curious," Foster told El Reg. ®

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