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A second life in Africa

Computer servers being loaded at the CERN Recuperation Service onto a truck.

A forklift loading CERN computer servers at the CERN Recuperation Service on 8 March 2012 before they started their journey to Morocco. Image courtesy Flavio Costa.

On 30 August 2012, 220 computer servers from CERN, Switzerland, will start a journey to be delivered to the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), in Ghana, Africa. This will provide a new computing center for KNUST and boost African physics onto the international stage, helping African students.

Flavio Costa, a software engineer in CERN’s IT department is in charge of outreach for INVENIO, an open-source digital library software that manages over a million documents at CERN. He is organizing the transfer of these servers to various institutes.

This center is a dynamic organism. When parts break down or become old, they need to be replaced. The computing center has around 10,000 servers. These servers, like all technology, have a limited life cycle. After a few years, some servers become redundant. In this case, they are replaced and sent to storage in the CERN recuperation service. But they are still fit for lots of other interesting uses.

“If no one at CERN wants the equipment they are donated. This is where I’m involved. I’m responsible for the organization of transferring 220 servers over to KNUST in Ghana,” said Costa.

In total, 220 servers and 30 routers, which will help increase network performance, will be shipped. Costa said, “They will make up a new computing center dedicated to physics research. The 200 servers will serve the computing center and 20 servers will help run INVENIO there.” According to Costa, the increased computing power will improve research collaboration with KNUST.

“The servers will help develop scientific collaboration,” said John Ellis, a physics professor at King’s College London, who is also a guest professor in CERN’s theory division. For some years, researchers, such as John Ellis, have developed cooperative initiatives with KNUST, to train and inspire students, such as the African School of Physics, which took place this summer.

“The timing of the school provided a good opportunity to set a deadline for the server transfer agreement. KNUST students will now be able to participate in simulations of LHC data, initially purely theoretically. We also hope subsequently for participation by a team from KNUST in the ATLAS experimental collaboration,” Ellis said.

At the official handing-over ceremony at CERN Peter Yirenkyi, a lecturer at KNUST, and vice chancellor of KNUST William Ellis, and Isaac Dontwi of the National Institute for Mathematical Sciences, Ghana, will meet and greet CERN’s director general, Rolf Heuer and IT department head Frédéric Hemmer.

But, this is not the first computing handshake CERN has made with African institutions. On 8 March 2012, 161 servers were donated to universities in Casablanca, Morocco to build a new Tier 2 grid node of the Worldwide LHC Computing Grid.

And there’s still more computing capacity waiting for a second lease on life. Costa said, “Even after these servers are given to Ghana, there will still be over 1,000 servers left in storage. Some other institutes may like to contact us about them.”

- Adrian Giordani

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