back to article CERN BOFH needs a bigger storage array

Preparations are well underway at CERN to commission the world's largest particle accelerator. Advances in networking technology have allowed the particle physics lab to bring in scientists from around the world to analyse the data is will generate. When activated in May 2008 it's hoped that the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) …


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  1. RW

    Photons? Protons? Morons!

    "accelerate beams of photons to close to the speed of light"

    By definition, photons always travel at the speed of light. Moreover, photons are uncharged particles, hence cannot be "accelerated". The word you were looking for is "protons."

    As somebody or other once pointed out, the devil is in the details.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    ...that if (as some fear) CERN compress the earth into a singularity, some impressive storage density will be achieved.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    That's all very well but. . .

    It sounds like it's going to take a lot of power.

    What's it's carbon footprint?

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What if

    So, just what would happen if they unexpectedly push a proton faster than light? Imagine what that would do to all the 'laws' we hold as absolute. I have often wondered if the particles that they have been looking for will only occur at energy levels beyond the light limit.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Wouldn't there be a problem reading from this singularity ?

  6. Raheim Sherbedgia

    Data Centers?

    I thought data centers were rated backwards from most things? i.e. Tier-1 is tiny, tier-4 is really huge? Have I been mis-informed?

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    You can always trust the green lobby...

    "What's it's carbon footprint?"

    ...about 27km... did you not read the article? ;-)

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    RTFA, it says protons not photons.

    .....moronic protonic.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Never mind Higgs boson. What about basic arithmetic?

    The article says: "The detectors have millions of output channels, generating data at around one million Gigabytes a second. " and "Even after information is filtered to concentrate on interesting events the collider generates a phenomenal volume of data, around 15 million Gigabytes of data a year."

    So it's working for about 15 seconds a year then is it?

    I assume Mr L meant to say 1GB a second. There are 31,536,000 seconds in 365 days so the machine would be running for about 6 months in every year. Is that right either?

  10. Dan


    What is 15 million Gigabytes when expressed as elephant-halves per cubic furlong?

    PS @Notwithstanding - Brilliant, I always wanted to be part of the biggest storage media ever produced...

  11. Chris Taylor

    Doom Players - Lock & Load

    It seems impossible that boffinry on the scale will be allowed to go unpunished. The most likely scenario is that a small tear in the fabric of reality will allow hordes of zombies or demons to enter our world.

    Clearly the scientists should keep a lone fighter in cold storage as a hedge against the certainty of otherworldly invasion.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: What if

    "So, just what would happen if they unexpectedly push a proton faster than light? Imagine what that would do to all the 'laws' we hold as absolute. I have often wondered if the particles that they have been looking for will only occur at energy levels beyond the light limit."

    Firstly, how would they tell if they'd pushed a photon FTL? They're not measuring speed.

    Secondly, the amount of energy required to push a particle towards the speed of light is unbounded. You can get the energy level as high as you like just by edging a little closer to light-speed. Thus, your statement is moronic. (I mean that in the nicest way possible, of course.) I recommend reading a basic textbook about special relativity if you want to understand the mathematics involved - it's really quite beautiful.

  13. Dave Newbold

    Re: Never mind Higgs boson. What about basic arithmetic?

    In fact, all data from the detectors is filtered in real time using custom silicon or FPGAs. Typically, only about one in every 400,000 measurements is kept, the rest just disappears off the end of FIFOs in buffers. For the detector I happen to know about, we record a few MB, 40M times per second; but only about 400MB/s make it onto tape.

    Some of the FPGA-based systems used to process the data are quite impressive; few Tb/s flowing through a single electronics crate and being processed within a microsecond or so, that sort of level.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The question here

    Is should the thing be switched on? Scientists have calculated odds of 50 million to 1 of these experiments causing a black hole to form. Such odds, they argue mean it is almost impossible that this would happen - yet the odds of winning the US MegaMillions lottery is 175 million to one. Does that mean no one has ever won it as it is statistically impossible to do so? No, many people have managed to win despite the odds. If you can calculate what the odds are, then there is a possiblility it can occur. I think more research needs to be done before something happens that we cannot control. It may not happen the first time an experiment is carried out, or even in the first year but if there is a mathematical probability of a black hole forming then at some point, given enough experiments, it will. Hopefully we will have finished doing these experiments, got the data and switched it off before we hit that 50 million to 1 shot.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    obligatory off-topic reference ....

    Space for 15 million Gigabytes of data a year? WOW That's one huge porn archive !!

    Where do i sign up for access ? :p

  16. Ian Rogers

    @The question here

    "two beams ... collide with each other around 40 million times a second"

    So at odds of "50 million to 1" a black hole will be created roughly once every 1.25 seconds! But it's not much of a big deal as each would only have the mass of 2 protons, wouldn't last very long and have a *very* small event horizon :-)

    Black holes only get dangerous when they have the mass of several tens of stars Hollywood notwithstanding.

  17. Ian Ferguson


    An astonishing amount of data considering all they want is a boolean result - ie. does the Higgs boson particle exist, yes or no.

    Re. "The question here" - the US lottery has millions of players every draw, so of course somebody is going to win; the 50 million to 1 black hole calculation you quote, if it's true, would be an overall probability. If you apply the same logic to the lottery, the odds are stacked towards somebody winning, if that makes sense.

    Anyway, all the scientists are saying is that they are pretty certain (and 50 million to 1 is VERY certain) it WON'T cause a black hole. I could say with comparible confidence that the pot plant on my desk won't spontaneously explode and kill me.

    The problem is that scientists are too logical to be allowed to provide press quotes - eg. "There's a 99.999% probability that this mobile phone mast won't fry your brains" is logically correct, but will mean the tabloids scream that they admit there is a possibility of the reverse.

  18. Adam Azarchs

    "The previous collider wasn't powerful enough"

    There's actually some debate about whether the previous collider could do it. Towards the end of it's run, a few scientists thought they saw it, however only at one or two standard deviations confidence interval (an interval which had previously caused false alarms). However, rather than delay the start of construction on the LHC, they shut down the experiment before those scientists could get their shot at a nobel prize. Thus they succeeded in creating a black hole (of bitterness), after all.

  19. J

    Re: basic arithmetic and such

    "information is filtered to concentrate on interesting events"

    Well, I don't know the nature of the discarded info (redundant stuff?), and I'm pretty sure it was quite well thought out, but I still think it's sad so much info is discarded. You know, it's very common that in science the most interesting things are those you were NOT looking for or expecting...

    Forget basic arithmetic, anon. What about some basic reading skills? From the article: "data acquisition occurs at around 100MB per second."

  20. Nexox Enigma


    I don't believe that the odds (50m:1) were for each trial, but rather for this sort of experiment in general. The idea is that overall there is a 50M:1 chance that any of the collisions will cause a black hole, not 50M:1 for each collision. In your lottery example, it would be comprable to the odds of a given person/ticket/entry winning the lottery, not anyone anywhere winning it. Really, everyone should be more worried about being hit by lightning on a clear day, freak gas main explosions, terrorism, the current trendy far East virus, any number of extremely improbable events that are apparently risks to our lives every day than this non-chance of total planetary destruction. Or you could stop worrying and just live, but I understand some people have difficulty with that solution.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Black Holes and Revelations

    Well, if a black hold did form, given the sizes we're talking about, I think we'd be long gone before it had an noticable effect.

    In any case, someone would make a mint from nuclear waste disposal...

  22. John Stirling


    ...a beowulf cluster of these...

    uh, oh, sorry, wrong website.

    (off topic) can anyone actually tell me what a beowulf cluster is or ever was, and why anyone would ever actually imagine one?

  23. Aubry Thonon

    Elementary physics...

    "So, just what would happen if they unexpectedly push a proton faster than light? "

    Nothing. Here follows a *very* simple explanation:

    Why can a plane go faster than sound? Because the plane is not made out of sound-waves but of matter (light-waves).

    Why can't we go faster than light? Because all matter is (if you'll excuse the simplification) made of photons... and you can't push a photon to travel faster than light, since it itself *is* light.

    Bottom line, if you do want to travel faster than light you would either have to:

    1) somehow change matter/energy into something completely different, then re-integrate it at the destination (effective teleportation; and no, the Casimir Effect won't help you much);

    2) "drop out" of our universe into one where "distances" are smaller, then "drop back" into our universe (so-called "hyperspace travel"); and/or

    3) force the universe to "wrinkle" to allow you to "shrink" the distance between you and your destination (space-warps or wormholes).

    My apologies to any *real* physicists who will be reading this - I fully acknowldge that this explanation has been at Pterry's "Lies To Children" level. Those interested in a more complete reasoning can do their own research. ^_^

  24. Tom

    More "elementary physics"

    Scotty... We need to get going, where are the warp drive engines. Don't you have the di-Lithium crystals up and running yet. Get that anti-matter working!!

    Don't we have this problem solved already?? They did it on TV years ago!!

  25. ben edwards

    15mil gb/s down to 100mb/s

    When you have such lossy compression like that, its no wonder the Higgs is so hard to track down!

  26. James Radley


    Beowulf cluster -- see

    Essentially, you take a large number of linux desktop computers, plug them together et voila -- a MIMD supercomputer.

    Over on another website (dotslash) , it was a standard response to any new vaguely high performance linux device to "imagine a beowulf cluster of these", though nowadays it's a cliche, and only applied in humour to a large supercomputer.

    Like the one at CERN :)

  27. amanfromMars Silver badge

    Joining up the Dots of the ITNexus....... Spinning Cores.

    "My apologies to any *real* physicists who will be reading this - I fully acknowldge that this explanation has been at Pterry's "Lies To Children" level. Those interested in a more complete reasoning can do their own research. ^_^"

    That had me smile as more research would complicate the reasoning. How complete must IT be to be Fact. Simple truths shared WWWorldwide Create Tele Vision? And should Kick Start Semantic EMPathy ..... Global C00perations.

    A Task in the Laptop of Global Operating Devices? Ye GODs..... EUReKa BT. IT is Good to Talk and Real Bad not to be able to..... for then there may be much to Reveal/Conceal hidden behind the scenes and practised in secret seclusion, of which there is no earthly place.

  28. Richard Dawson

    Peppa Pig does elementary phyiscs (@Aubry)

    Daddy Pig says that matter is Not made of photons. That's simplifying things in the same way that saying dinosaurs are made of felt is simplifying things. They're not. It's just completely wrong.

    Matter is made of electrons, protons and neutrons.

    Not photons. Light is made of photons. Light travels at the speed of Light. Other stuff is slower.

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Closing Speed?

    OK, there's probably some bit of Relativity that I missed, but surely if you collide two beams of particles each travelling at even 51% light-speed, the closing speed will be greater than the Speed of Light.

    Is this possible? And, if not, why not?

  30. Ken Hagan Gold badge

    Re: The question here

    This machine isn't going to do anything that high-energy cosmic rays haven't been doing for the last five billion years. We're still here. I'd say that was pretty good evidence that the laws of physics don't allow high energy collisions to create black holes that devour everything around them.

  31. James Chaldecott

    RE: Closing Speed

    Yes, you missed a bit of relativity.

    The main point of (Special) relativity, is that you can't tell how fast you are going in any absolute sense, only relative to other things. We might see the two beams going at > 50% of the speed of light from our point of view (reference frame), but the situation is quite different from their point of view.

    The crucial point is that from *all three* frames of reference (i.e. ours and that of a particle in each of the beams), a photon would whizz past at exactly the speed of light in any direction. This has very odd consequences, such as the following things behaving differently between the different reference frames (there is no "correct frame"):

    * Time

    * Length

    * Velocity

    * Simultaneity (This one freaked me out when I was taught it.)

    That's from memory, and it's been a few years, hopefully I'm not completely out there.

    Anyway, the point is that neither of the beams see the other beam moving at > 100% of the speed of light, partly "due to" (or "preceived as". My memory isn't so solid here) the fact that time is running more slowly in their reference frames.

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Oh noes! Black holes devour the Earth!

    It's not 40 million per second, it's 600 million per second. That's 43200 black holes per hour.

    Only, that is not going to happen since you have to accelerate particles of sufficient mass to generate the black hole and they're not always going to do that. Furthermore, any black hole thus generated would have such a small schwarzschild radius that it would evaporate through Hawking radiation almost immediately. They'd see the effect but they wouldn't have an ominously growing black hole devouring the Earth [and if it did, would it really be all that much of a loss?]. A teensy black hole doesn't have the capacity to consume something like Earth in a hell of a hurry. It would get indigestion from trying to eat a few atoms at a time. It's all about surface area and when we're talking about events on the particle-size level, there's just not that much of it.

    I don't think they'll be pushing particles past c because of E=mc2. What will come out of it is a mystery, of course, but that is exactly why they're doing it. Even if all that money was spent and they learned nothing new [impossible] it would still be worthwhile. I think we'll be seeing things we didn't expect, weren't looking for and never anticipated, which is how it should be.

    Good luck boys and girls at CERN!

  33. Norman Wanzer

    @James Chaldecott

    I don't know why but after reading that I kept getting the impression that special relativity is just a way to explain things we have observed but still don't really know. Much in the same way we are able to build a mechanical device to predict the movement of planets from an earth centric point of view. It's wrong, but is able to predict observable facts. Sun centric is correct, but both will give you the exact time and place a planet will be in the night sky.

    I have often thought relativity has the same flaws. The problem is we can't really prove it to be wrong or right - we just think it is right. Until someone actually tries to go faster than light we will never be 100% sure.

    So many things have been guessed at in the last couple of decades that make me question just how accurate our 'mechanical device' (physics knowledge) is. We have dark matter, dark energy, strange matter and possibly strong and weak gravitation all to explain things we are seeing either in math or reality that do not fit with our current understanding of the universe.

    It is best to keep an open mind. Do not hold religiously to our scientific beliefs because it could all be changed tomorrow with a new discovery. For all we know, we could discover there is no light speed barrier because there is no such thing as light.

    @Black Holes - If such a thing could be created, it would likely evaporate into energy before it could do any harm.

  34. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Carbon footprint

    Why do you think the Swiss don't drive supercars, Humvees or anything with more than 3 cylinders and have to turn their engines off at traffic lights?

    Wonder if anyone's tried accelerating a cuckoo clock up to the speed of light???


  35. Aubry Thonon

    @Peppa Pig does elementary phyiscs

    @Richard DawsonPosted

    "Daddy Pig says that matter is Not made of photons. That's simplifying things in the same way that saying dinosaurs are made of felt is simplifying things. They're not. It's just completely wrong.

    Matter is made of electrons, protons and neutrons."

    <sigh> and here I was hoping to keep this simple.

    OK - your comment is akin to me saying "my knife is made of atoms" and someone piping up and saying "no, it's stainless stell". Electrons, protons and netrons are themselves made of Quarks (if memory serves, a neutron is an Up-Up-Down triplet... can anyone check me on this). Quarks themselves are made up of... argh... I'll leave it up to you to do further research.

    Funnily enough; History diagrams can be used to track a particle's path through space-time. For example, the movement of an electron forward through time can also be represented by the motion of a positron *backwards* through time. Now (here's the funny bit), if you draw a history-diagram of a photon's path, the photon going forward can also be represented by a photon going *backward* through Time... ^_^ Gave me quite a start when I read that, because it means that technically, the *entire universe* could be constructed out of one damn photon bouncing backwards and forwards throught time.

    Ouch. My head hurts every time I try to image that (or try to mentally fold eight cubes into a tesseract).

  36. sidney cook

    Processing this data requires the power of around 100,000 desktop CPUs

    They need to buy a botnet, some are more then a million pc's. And you can get them for alot less money.

  37. Alan Parsons

    Anyone remember John Titor?

    Can anyone remember that chap who claimed to have arrived in our time using a Marconi Time travelling machine that was effectively powered by two micro-singularities of the type we discover (willan on haven discovered) in 2008?

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