Linux at CERN

#linux #cern #lhc #physics #newboson #Higgs
On reddit (via Ubuntu Vibes) an anonimous researcher from CERN published the following message:
I don't see any CERN related things here, so I want to mention how Linux (specifically, Scientific Linux and Ubuntu) had a vital role in the discovery of the new boson at CERN. We use it every day in our analyses, together with hosts of open software, such as ROOT, and it plays a major role in the running of our networks of computers (in the grid etc.) used for the intensive work in our calculations.
Yesterday's extremely important discovery has given us new information about how reality works at a very fundamental level and this is one physicist throwing Linux some love.
If you want, you can download the distributions used at CERN at the page Linux @ CERN. The CERN distribution is a Scientific Linux (a distribution used also at Fermilab) rebuilded with the Red Hat. In general the Linux distributions are the most used in the scientific world, in particular in physics and mathematics, and the reasons are the same that the anonimous research writes in another comment:
In terms of data analysis, Windows could be used in principle. We could also use some type of device that manipulates symbols on a strip of tape according to a simple table of rules. Linux is used because it is most appropriate for the job. Linux is ubiquitous in HPC and we use a lot of computing power in LHC physics, so the arguments for the use of Linux in HPC are very similar to the arguments for the use of Linux in LHC physics analyses. Naturally, it's important to have an operating system that is free, open source and reliable (Scientific Linux is basically Red Hat Linux), but here's a quotation from the Scientific Linux website that should give some idea of why Scientific Linux is needed:
"Our main goal for the base distribution is to have everything compatible with Enterprise, with only a few minor additions or changes. Examples of items that were added are Alpine, and OpenAFS.
Our secondary goal is to allow easy customization for a site, without disturbing the Scientific Linux base. The various labs are able to add their own modifications to their own site areas. By the magic of scripts, and the anaconda installer, each site is to be able to create their own distributions with minimal effort. Or, if a user wishes, they can simply install the base SL release."
I work primarily in physics, not in computing, so I doubt that I am able to argue very competently for Linux over something such as BSD. The fact is that Linux was the operating system used in the overwhelming majority of the analyses contributing to the discovery, so, in that sense I think I am justified in claiming that Linux played a vital role in the discovery.
And he also writes about Apple and Comic Sans:
In many ways, some Apple fans are similar to religious people in their devotion to something; that is, their support is not really derived from a critical appraisal of the technical standard of Apple products. I don't identify with this kind of motivation, but I am much happier seeing people religiously attached to new technological gadgetry than to invisible sky daddies.
Similarly, Comic Sans is grotesque, but if it contributes to directing attention to the recent discovery, then it could be argued that it is a good thing.
In direct answer to your question, I think that you can thank Microsoft Bob for the existence of Comic Sans.
And finally he explain (one of many) that, with the data collected since june 2012, we can say that the new particle is a new boson, but we are not certain that it is a Higgs boson:
The properties of the discovered boson have yet to be scrutinised thoroughly before one can reliably claim it to be a Higgs boson (note that I do not claim the discovered boson to be the Higgs particle in the post). This is a phase of analysis we are now moving into.
And don't forget to read the post about the discover of the new boson!

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