CERN is the home to the internet and also Higgs Boson, the ‘god’ particle. As we all know open source software is at the heart of all the scientific work that CERN does. It uses technologies like OpenStack and Kuberentes.
However, when it comes to user-facing applications that are used by scientists, researchers, and employees – they run on Microsoft technologies such as Windows, Skype and so on.
Microsoft offers a discount to academics and research organizations that brings the cost down as these organizations run hundreds, if not thousands of client machines. CERN has been using Microsoft technologies for over 20 years under a discount rate of being an academic institution”.
However, for some unknown reason, Microsoft decided to revoke CERN’s academic status, which means now Microsoft wants to be paid for each user running their software. That’s increasing the license costs by more than a factor of ten.
CERN has been looking at alternatives and started a program called MAlt (the Microsoft Alternatives project). The goal is to put CERN back in control of their software using open source technologies.
The core principles of MAlt include:
- Deliver the same service to every category of CERN personnel
- Avoid vendor lock-in to decrease risk and dependency
- Keep hands on the data
- Address the common use-cases
CERN is already piloting some alternatives to mail and skype. There are two potential outcomes of this move: 1) either Microsoft will restore CERN’s academic status or 2) CERN will manage to become independent of Microsoft. There are many European organizations that are already working on projects that help them move towards vendor-neutral open source technologies.
While CERN may find it easy to find Higgs Boson using Open Source, desktop-centric solutions can be as challenging as it is to find the secret of our universe.