Nordic collaboration with CERN spreads expertise

When data from CERN are to be made available to researchers, they are first received by one of the 13 Tier 1 centres, located around the world. One of these is situated in the Nordic region. This Nordic solution is unique in being distributed across four countries, whereas the other centres are located on a single site. But what is a Tier 1 centre and why have we organised ours so differently from the rest of the world? Oxana Smirnova, CERN Liaison at the NeIC, provides a clear explanation.

“The Nordic Tier 1 is the only Tier 1 centre that is distributed across countries. This is a special situation and a result of a Nordic cooperative effort,” Oxana Smirnova explains in her office at the Department of Physics at Lund University. As CERN liaison, Dr Smirnova’s job is to ensure that communication between the Nordic Tier 1 centre and CERN is maintained as seamlessly as possible, both technically and in terms of policy.  “The goal for my job is not to be noticed by the researchers. For instance, my colleagues don’t know where their data are being processed. It just works.” 

“We are developing expertise in modern technologies so all the countries benefit and gain expertise. I think it is an outstanding example of Nordic cooperation.” Oxana Smirnova, CERN liaison at NeIC

Tier 1 centres provide access to CERN data

The Tier 1 system basically comprises a cluster of computers distributed over a large area. Researchers call it the “Grid” – a form of distributed supercomputer which combined provides supercomputer capacity. Dr Smirnova has been involved from the very beginning (ca. 2000) when the Tier 1 centres were first being established. She says: 

Oxana Smirnova“Seventeen years ago when CERN was preparing to start constructing accelerators, computing expenses weren’t in the budget because at the end of the 90s nobody knew what computing technology would be like. However, it became clear that a single computer was not the solution. That would be a very expensive beast. So people looked for cheaper solutions – researchers made farms of small computers themselves. You could buy them in the downtown supermarket and connect them into a single system. It became evident that the cluster model was the way forward. At the same time, researchers wanted to access the data from anywhere without travelling to CERN. So remote access was needed, and people started to develop a model for infrastructure. Consequently the Tier 1 centres emerged.”

Nordic joint forces

Why have we placed the Nordic Tier 1 centre in more than one location?

“When the Tier 1 centres were planned, only countries of a certain size could afford to host a centre. Naturally, the largest countries with the largest economies were able to be hosts, while the Nordic countries were too small. So the Nordic countries decided to join forces and create a Nordic Tier 1 centre. It’s a distributed Tier 1 system that actually has resources in four of the five Nordic countries. From the point of view of human capital, we are developing expertise in modern technologies so all the countries benefit and gain expertise. I think it is an outstanding example of Nordic cooperation. It’s a good investment, and we’re lucky to have it in the Nordic countries,” the CERN liaison concludes.

The Nordic Tier 1 data centre is distributed across the Nordic countries, with sites in Bergen, Espoo, Copenhagen, Linköping, Oslo and Umeå. 


Text: Linn Hoff Jensen

Photo: NordForsk/Terje Heiestad

Gudmund Høst - Director of the Nordic e-Infrastructure Collaboration (NeIC)
Contact person Gudmund Høst
Director of the Nordic e-Infrastructure Collaboration (NeIC)
Work +47 958 16 846