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CERN migrates to open-source technologies (home.cern)
498 points by tdhttt on July 25, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 141 comments



Public funding of open source software is one of the most direct ways that government spending can grow the supply side of the economy. Taxpayers will directly benefit from the public domain technologies developed to replace the contracts CERN is moving away from. Software and science share an important economic trait, that once you produce them you can maximize their total impact by spreading them around as much as possible. That's an advantageous situation for public funding without IP restrictions, which is the model of academia.


Migrating away from Microsoft won't be easy. Despite high licensing costs, Windows, AD and Exchange are still great solutions with millions of people familiar with them, good documentation and support.

I agree that only public funding and massive donations would allow the development of true alternative to these products.

The building blocks are already there: desktop Linux, openLDAP, FreeRADIUS, LibreOffice, etc.

What is needed is lots of refinements, improvements and UI/UX polish to have a package that small shops to Fortune 500 companies could deploy.


You dont need to get rid of Windows to support Open Source software though. My favorite Open Source tools work no matter what OS I am using be it Mac, Windows or Linux.


I think everybody should move away from Windows & other software assets. In 2019 it is crazy to make end users responsible for the security of the OS. I have for example never questioned the security of my iPhone.

A child that has a chromebook will never understand why you need a virus checker, firewall, that the data really is gone if a ssd breaks or have to install a special program to make a fysical print. The average training time to make this migration from MS Office to Google Docs for employees at Forbes 500 companies is 1 hour.

Chrome OS is such an undervalued solution for the end user in a traditional business.

In tech we all use GSuite. On stackshare.io a whopping 17.200 companies use G-suite in their tech stack. Microsoft Office 173.

You can't get hired if you answer MS Office as your main document driver in an interview. This discussion is not even a thing that gets discussed at a sane technology company. G Suite is awesome and it just works.

Kids use Google Docs as a chat app. A traditional document program is a typewriter and a google doc is a laptop with internet connection.

G Suite API's create so much automation option plug&play out of the box that 95% of your automation can be arranged with SAAS.

Both Zapier & IFTT supply a polished UI, where anybody can connect G Suite with 600 other SAAS API providers. Nobody outside technology has ever started a conversation about these two.

https://stackshare.io/stackups/g-suite-vs-microsoft-office-3...


Going from one proprietary locked-in system to the next doesn't solve the problems. Especially 'The Web'®© services are unsuitable for anything with remotely sensitive documents.


Using stackshare stats for software adoption is somewhat disingenuous. Companies aren't required to disclose what they use, and many don't. You are also more prone to finding similar tool stacks in similar companies (new tech, startup, enterprise, etc...), this isn't even mentioning that the only two software solutions you presented for document management take two very different approaches for monetization, and your post implies that you value the convenience of customer-as-a-product models which we don't have the stats available to back which approach is better. That perspective is also not valid anymore as even Office, and the likes of Libre Office now provide similar conveniences of cloud backed storage and web interfaces.


Counter point: the more the government gets into funding OSS, they will essentially become a competitor to other software companies. Now the government both has the power and incentive to hinder private companies with rules and regulations.

I think that if the government needs OSS software for actual use by the government, then that's fine. Don't make the government become a competitor to private industry. Look how that turned out with Uber vs. Taxis.

OSS is just like anything in the free market. If people and companies want it that much, they will spend time and energy on it.


> Now the government both has the power and incentive to hinder private companies with rules and regulations.

What incentive? In the scenario you describe, I don't see an obvious mechanism for the government to receive additional tax revenue as a result of funding OSS, and that's the usual mechanism for such an incentive.

I mean, I guess you could argue that tax revenues will tend to increase as the economy grows, but that seems like a case where the interests of the government are aligned with the interests of the nation(s) as a whole, which is generally considered a good thing.


The same is true of the government using proprietary software thus funding it against open source. The work can be outsourced to open source companies, etc. as well, just like it effectively is with proprietary.


As long as they don't forbid companies from using OSS inside of (or to produce) a commercial product, I don't really see the problem? It'd actually give companies a competitive advantage.

Speaking of that, it's absurd how many private companies benefit from Linux! I bet only a tiny percentage of those companies contribute back into the open source projects they benefit from.


Disclaimer: I worked at CERN in IT for 5 years as staff.

CERN has never been a Microsoft organisation excepted in the head of management that was pushing for Microsoft solutions everywhere without success.

- Scientific computation are done at CERN under Linux with the Root framework.

- Most (all?) scientists uses OSx or Linux.

- All computing clusters runs SC Linux or centos.

- Most internal softwares: indico, EDH, landb, and other are running under Linux and are web based.

- All DBs are OSS or oracle

- All storages system are home made (EOS, Castor) or ceph based and run under Linux.

- Data distribution is home made and based on a framework named xrootd under Linux.

- Software distribution is also Linux based and run as a fuse module (cernVMFS)

- Most systems services are UNIX C++ and Java for the control part.

- CERN uses Openstack for virtualisation After the management pushed for Hyper-V and failed miserably.

- Management pushed for SharePoint for years before the entire website switched to PHP and Drupal.

There si not real "Microsoft" at CERN excepted AD and phones. It is however a study case of bad management decisions in IT.


I'm not proud of it, but I worked on SharePoint at CERN IT. Some examples of how dysfunctional it was:

- When asking about version control I was told that if I really wanted to use it I could have Visual SourceSafe 6.0 or something from way back in the nineties. It was basically CVS 0.1 alpha with a GUI, and I ended up learning Git instead.

- I made sure all my changes worked on Firefox, because that's what I knew the physicists were using. My boss wanted me to support IE only, and after a heated discussion the quote which always haunted me was "We don't care about the physicists!"

- A colleague lamented about having spent about a year developing some uber-flexible interface in SharePoint which would've been an order of magnitude simpler in other content management systems.

The rest of CERN is completely different, as indicated by cernguy.

I left a year into a two-year contract, and I'm happy to say I've not worked on a Microsoft platform ever since!


> The rest of CERN is completely different, as indicated by cernguy

Yes, that is also a thing at CERN.

Many other teams re-develop things internally (Linux based) because they could not trust or rely on IT management to do the right things.

That had a very perveted effect of internal duplication across teams and experiments.


Well, now they are conCERNed


Why was management pushing for it so hard? Better (existent) salespeople for microsoft vs OSS? Or were there actual reasons they thought microsoft would be better


> Why was management pushing for it so hard? Better (existent) salespeople for microsoft vs OSS?

It's not clear to me. But it seems to have been part of a vision to "servicify" everything. Where everything should be a service "maintained" / "paid" but never "developed" to reduce costs.

Something that backfired beautifully


It amuses me IT management is ok to pay millions in terrible software license fees (i.e. most of Oracle products), but not ok to budget a couple of millions to have a team develop some of that internally. Also another amusing fact is that most IT managers never wrote a line of code in their lives. IT should not just be about expensive vendors and outsourcing for labor cost arbitrage.


If terrible software fail it's fault of vendor and blame goes to said software and vendor. If internal development team fail to deliver needed software it's always fail of IT manager who can be fired. It's all that simple.


Also it's the classical buy vs build.

Ok, given the size and budget of CERN, it's probably cheaper for them to develop things in house. But maintaining a team of people not at the heart of your activities is always a bit challenging from an organizational point of view. For example, as it's not core for your activities, in case of a budget reduction, this team will likely be reduced, re-purposed or removed, leaving a lot of their services unmaintained with no bug fixes and difficult to operate by IT.

It's also less battle tested than off the shelf software, so you will hit all the common traps before having a stable solution.

And open-sourcing the code is not a magic bullet. Even if the code is open-sourced, the likelihood of the project building a community of users and external contributors is quite small.

That being said, sometimes the offering for off the shelf software is just so bad that it's preferable to implement it in house. Or you have an idea that, even if not core to your business/activities, could provide a competitive advantage/huge gain in efficiency. But to pull that off, you need to be well ahead of the curve, have smart people in-house and significant resources to dedicated to that (CERN actually crosses these boxes). But it's also likely the world will catch-up and you will then be stuck with your in-house solution lacking features and reliability.


> given the size and budget of CERN, it's probably cheaper for them to develop things in house

It's not just their size, it's that they're doing something that no one has done before. When you're building a me too product or even a version 2 of something, maybe buying makes sense. But when you're doing something for the first time, and you're not even sure what will work (e.g., CERN), by definition it's impossible to buy. If you could buy it, someone's already built it.

Generally, the more uncertainty around the business model and potential solutions, the stronger the case for building. Conversely, sometimes the larger and more bureaucratic the institution, leads to slower iterations and experiments. Because of these two seemingly contradictory points, when a large company wants to do something unknown and relatively uncertain, they buy an entire company, provide them resources, but try no to interfere too much (see, e.g., GM buying Cruise).


Consultants often come in with papers that prove that these solutions save money. It just never happens and you end up with expensive, barely working services like SharePoint.


How widespread is oracle? What features are they using that Postgresql(or commercial derivative) couldn't handle?


cernVMFS sounds like AppFS [0] with fewer features. Some of those features, like writability or setuid files, might be useful for CERN users.

[0] http://AppFS.net/


Since people don't read the article:

"The Microsoft Alternatives project (MAlt) started a year ago to mitigate anticipated software license fee increases. MAlt’s objective is to put us back in control using open software."

"A prime example is that CERN has enjoyed special conditions for the use of Microsoft products for the last 20 years, by virtue of its status as an “academic institution”. However, recently, the company has decided to revoke CERN’s academic status, a measure that took effect at the end of the previous contract in March 2019, replaced by a new contract based on user numbers, increasing the license costs by more than a factor of ten. Although CERN has negotiated a ramp-up profile over ten years to give the necessary time to adapt, such costs are not sustainable."


Ouch. Foot meet gun.

Nice to see some of the old guard is still alive and well within the Microsoft walls.


Really CERN does not qualify !


Why & how?


I believe Microsoft's main argument is that CERN doesn't teach or award degrees. Last time this was posted I saw someone say it's also due to them making a little bit of money licensing stuff to industry [1], but universities do the same thing [2] so I don't think that's a strong argument.

[1] https://kt.cern/

[2] e.g. https://www.ox.ac.uk/research/innovation-and-partnership


You seem to be making an argument based on what Microsoft says. But of course, what Microsoft says is not the reason for its decision.

Microsoft offers an academic discount because it thinks that getting students to use their products makes them more money as the students continue to use them later in life. Microsoft then SAYS they are offering that discount because students/degrees/training/teaching/whatever. What it SAYS doesn't matter. It's not the reason.

Similarly, Microsoft wants CERN to pay because it thinks it can make more money in licensing fees from CERN than it can from getting people at CERN familiar with Microsoft products. (Microsoft may have gotten this wrong, if CERN pushes more non-Microsoft products into the spotlight; whether they are wrong or right isn't at issue, their reasoning is the issue.) Once deciding they can make more money if CERN pays, now Microsoft has to come up with some reasonable-sounding reason that keeps its existing academic and industry customers happy.

So they came up with that reason. But don't think for a second the REAL reason has anything to do with anything but Microsoft's bottom line. Don't let them deceive you. This decision was made by executives at Microsoft by talking about profit.


> You seem to be making an argument based on what Microsoft says

Well, yeah, I'm repeating what I remember them saying. I'm definitely not making my own argument, nor am I particularly willing to speculate about any ulterior motives.


Seems short sided even from a bottom line perspective. For one, CERN is bound to employ plenty of experts that will familiarize themselves with the product and move on to other projects later and choose MSFT products. Additionally, CERN is such a high profile project that simply asking them to advertise the fact that they are "powered by Microsoft" would pay them more than any licensing fees.

But maybe they thought they could charge 10x the fees AND still get all the benefits.


I guess "powered by Microsoft" is not what was happening at CERN as nearly all data analysis is "powered by Linux" (there's a reason, Scientific Linux existed) and iirc the ecad-software KiCAD is the only production focused CAD-tool which is good and free (mostly sponsored by CERN too)


Yep, the argument is academic since MS is also willing to increase prices on universities when they feel like it. I remember when they revoked per-seat pricing at the University of Texas 25 years ago.


CERN, and every other government lab, are highly involved in the PhD process and awarding degrees. I'd go as far as saying they are an integral part. This is where grad students do their research to get those degrees. This is where grad students get a significant amount of their experience. They are also where funding comes from to do the research in the first place. Without labs like CERN there'd be a big change in how degrees are awarded. Labs are also much closer to academia than they are you industry. Their primary focus is research, which makes them a public interest.

So if the distinction is "industry" or "academia" I don't know how someone would call labs "industry". I understand not calling them "academia" but that's definitely the classification if you restrict yourself to a binary choice.


Moreover, CERN have educational programmes, they teach.

https://home.cern/about/what-we-do/our-educational-programme...

This, is a reason that this is a great move for the spread of OSS:

>"The comprehensive range of training schemes and fellowships attracts many talented young scientists and engineers to the Laboratory. Many go on to find careers in industry, where their experience of working in a high-tech, multi-national environment is highly valued." (ibid) //

I'd warrant that if people start their career at CERN using OSS they'll help to advocate for those tools as they move out into other industries.

With MS's market share it's probably not significant for them, but it could be significant for whatever OSS tools are favoured at CERN.


I used to work with some one who had done her Phd at Cern which seems to qualify.


Qualify for what? There isn't some sort of objective arbitrator who decides whether Microsoft offers a discount to particular organisations. It's really up to them.

For the record, I also did my PhD at CERN, but they just provided facilities (offices, computers, accelerators, detectors etc) and not academic guidance/teaching/assessment: that was the job of my University.


Being an educational facility


CERN is a (multi)government research institute, similar to the US Department of Energy's Office of Science for instance, rather than a teaching faculty.


Wow. Heads will surely roll once this reaches Satya's desk.


...or the person gets promoted.

I previously worked for an enterprise analytics software provider whose success hinged on low-cost license agreements to schools and universities. Once the company became more successful commercially, it took the same tact--substantially raising these fees in search of profitability. Today, the firm is under serious pressure from open source analytical libraries. The point being, what looks to be optimal in the short run may not be optimal in the long run, as future consequences could be anticipated but short term revenue growth was too tempting.


> same tact

"Tack", from sailing: changing direction lets you use the wind differently. Two boats on the same tack are using the same wind strategy.

My workplace currently teaches students several proprietary systems that are now old and clunky (and of course expensive). We want to switch to open source competitors, but the how and when are rather complicated to coordinate. It will happen eventually though.


he meant tact


I'm surprised Gates would be for this


"Ten years"? Come on.


CERN had a major role in making kicad what it is today. they implemented tons of complex stuff that you normally only find in really expensive CAD tools.

Hope they can repeat that with a few more FOSS projects!


Would be nice to push up also the other parts of the physical design - LibreCAD[1] and FreeCAD[2], Yosys[3] and Symbiflow[4], Chisel/FIRRTL[5], and many others.

[1] https://librecad.org/

[2] https://www.freecadweb.org/

[3] http://www.clifford.at/yosys/

[4] https://symbiflow.github.io/

[5] https://chisel.eecs.berkeley.edu/


CERN has really done wonders to revive the project and get it organized again. Before that, the 2012 build became the last sane build from the project team for a few years. The project appeared to have lost steam and began to fragment. You had to download "latest" windows builds from some random server. Linux distributions stopped packaging at the 2012 build making it appear as if kicad was dead. This forced you to find a 3rd party package or build from source. Then there were a few forks to add features started by random individuals which were always unstable. Component names were renamed with stupid and confusing names to the point where I stopped using it. It almost looked like the project was dead at that point and this was 2014/15.

I recently picked it back up to investigate and was pleasantly surprised. It felt like the team dearly missed the sanity of 2012 version, continued from there and modernized it. Thank you CERN.


and you can donate to KiCad development via CERN: https://cernandsocietyfoundation.cern/projects/kicad-develop...


Aisler.net, a German boardhouse, makes a donation to kicad for every kicad designed pcb you order there and it's my favourite way to pay for open source.

They literally get paid the moment value is created from using their software. It's beautiful.


You aren’t right! Aisler doesn’t donate. The user can choose to donate.

From http://www.kicad-pcb.org/about/kicad/ “That is why AISLER allows its users to easily donate to the KiCad project during the ordering process.”


True.

The donation is an item on the bill, they automatically set it and the user can change the amount.


Aisler is also one of very few (only one?) shops that accepts librecad files.


I worked support some hardware CERN used once. Fun guys to talk with / work with.

They call me up one day to note that one of their devices I supported had an accident and they were concerned they didn't know why. So they sent me photos.

This device had rows of modular cards installed in it. In the center of the device with two cards pulled out you could see that something had burred and even melted some of the surrounding cards. But it didn't look like any given card had failed as much as there was some sort of really hot fire ... that had been in the air between the cards or something. Now keep in mind this was just what a handful of photos looked like, so who really knows. Makes no sense that there was something floating in the air between the cards hot enough to do that thing ... but that is what it looked like.

Anyway it was like a good 100k+ in hardware burned up, possibly MUCH more as the full chassis held a lot more than that. So I promise them a new chassis and such and tell them to pack it up nicely and we will have a courier come and get it and send it to our QA team. The CERN guys promised not to expose the equipment to anymore micro black holes ;)

The process to send stuff to the QA team in strange situations like this was a painful series of steps. The QA team was BRUTAL about process (even if they never followed it themselves...). They also were a real pain to even email, but that was part of the process. Amusingly enough when I sent them the photos and explained it was CERN even the QA ultra dry guys cracked some good X-files references ;)

Still wonder what the hell happened to that equipment.


It is awesome to see how CERN is supporting open source. They have been long time users of our open core GitLab with 12,000 users https://about.gitlab.com/customers/cern/


I visited CERN once in my role at GitLab. The scale of CERN and the level of people there is really impressive.

Many teams had implemented very complicated pipelines doing all sorts of things. Including using GitLab to design, validate and eventually produce hardware that was used in ATLAS.


I'm waiting for some of these documents being made public. I am working for a government institution that is making much of the same moves. Would be nice to see what an immense IT undertaking like this comes up with.


Are your org's documents public? I'd be excited to read about the practical effects of such deployment (from CERN too).


Ours is a more ad-hoc process than that. I work for Statistics Iceland. We are not changing OS or productivity suite (yet at least). Those that want Linux on their laptops get Ubuntu. We deploy Libreoffice alongside Office. Users using other statistical suites are encouraged to use R. On the infrastructure side we are making more use of Samba (one new DC, next up is migrating fileservers from old WServers over to Samba on Linux), just replaced Exchange with Kopano. We are an org of about 120-150 people/workstations.


How's the LibreOffice / MsOffice compatibility in practice?

Was thinking about this yesterday, and was curious how much functional coverage or issues there are with what people actually use it for.


We mostly use Office. Out of the ~120 workstations we only have ~10 Linux users. 6 of those are sysadmins/developers. Only 2 statisticians have Linux and they mostly use softwares besides productivity suits. We at least have no complaints yet to speak of. We should do a survey.


Not the OP, but I tried to do a lot of work in Libreoffice Calc on XLSX files. I had a constant issue of Libreoffice not being able to handle >10000 rows, and actually crashing when trying to do something intense like vlookup.


I worked QA at a place that had huge CSV log files for a device. Sometimes the log files were slow to open in Excel, or just would not open at all.

I started using Jupyter and Pandas for my own work, just so I could get something done. I really liked it.

But the organization was moving even more in the MS direction, I'm sure any thought of Pandas died after I left.

Try something like that if you can.


>...increasing the license costs by more than a factor of ten

When I hear stories like that I always wonder what was the thought process of the sales people that managed that account. Probably something like that:

- Hey, do you remember our old customer CERN, a world-famous scientific non-profit organization that pushes the boundaries of human knowledge about the universe?

- Yeah, what about them?

- Let's charge them 10 times more for our software licenses

- Can't see anything wrong about it, go ahead


I think this was posted at the time. It's worth saying that CERN have been massive open source users for decades


It’s also worth noting that CERN has been running (not just using!) many open source projects since way back. Geant, madx, root and cling come to mind.


Also see the comments last time this was posted: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20166070

and what I said last time:

I'm honestly pretty happy about this. I'm hoping that by aiming to replace the commercial products they use with opensource alternatives, the alternatives leave with a better polish and user experience. I also see CERN as an institution that is willing to hire the devs needed to maintain / support a project.


While this post is referring to desktop/server software, CERN are also using open source platforms in some of their experiments: they recently re-performed some of the 2012 analysis that led to the discovery of the Higgs boson, on top of Kubernetes.

Adam and I spoke to a computer scientist and two physicists from CERN for our podcast, and you might like to listen if you like physics or software.

https://kubernetespodcast.com/episode/062-cern/


That's kind of ironic. I was doing paid contract work in 1994 (on Linux!) that involved customizing the open source CERN httpd server (before Apache existed, or loadable modules in a web server).


Matrix would be a good fit for most research institutions, allowing cooperation trough federation. Heck, even Mastodon could be interesting, and ActivityPub as a transport layer for publications.

However, one issue is that small institutions cannot afford to self-host everything, or make the necessary adjustments themselves. I wonder if CERN and other big institutions could perform some heavy lifting (and maybe provide some shared services, hosting servers, etc.) without necessarily centralizing everything like it is done nowadays.


I'm a big Matrix fan but am curious about what options they have for integrating and managing it in a typical enterprise environment. For example:

-what happens for stuff like user management with Active Directory etc? -what happens for things like FOIA requirements considering it is e2e encrypted?


Matrix doesn't E2E encrypt everything, only certain rooms. It's not currently possible, but I suppose there's no technical roadblock to making a server prevent access to E2E encrypted rooms to meet FOIA requirements.

As for user management, synapse has identity servers and password providers to form a complete authentication solution. mxisd[0] is a service that uses both to offer LDAP authentication, although it seems dead with no real replacement.

[0] https://github.com/kamax-matrix/mxisd


So Matrix has a bunch of enterprise integration support either in existence or in the making.

In terms of audit compliance for E2EE, there are three main options:

a) Turn it off (as per the parent post); there isn't a button for this in synapse but would be possible to add, albeit technically an abuse vector given it is effectively a downgrade attack.

b) Add an audit user to rooms which need to be 'on the record'. This is our preferred solution, as it makes it crystal clear to users as to which conversations are on the record (and whose record!) and which aren't. One could run such a user via a client like https://github.com/matrix-org/pantalaimon, and have the server autoinvite them into rooms which need to be recorded.

c) Add an audit (aka ghost) device to users who need to be 'on the record'. For instance, you could use pantalaimon to log in as a given user and record their messages. The audit device will appear in the E2E devices for the user, and once cross-signing lands, could be signed by the user (or their sysadmin) to be trusted. However, we're not keen on ghost devices in general - we've built all of Matrix's E2EE trust model to protect users against unexpected devices being present in their rooms, so we'd recommend audit users instead.

In terms of LDAP integration - there are more and more enterprise integration options appearing; for instance, ma1sd is a maintained fork of mxisd, and we're working on better LDAP bridging for Matrix in general. We want Matrix to work in an enterprise environment, so if people see stuff missing, please yell.


e2ee can be turned off client side (and is off by default until ux improves), and while I don't think it's possible with the stock home server, it seems entirely possible to patch the home server to reject encrypt requests, and only federate unencrypted rooms

for directory service, LDAP and web SSO are both supported


Agreed on the matrix comment. In fact the government of France thinks so too! https://matrix.org/blog/2018/04/26/matrix-and-riot-confirmed...


Does this mean that no scientist at CERN can use applications like Mathematica? Or is this just focusing on essential foundation software like operating systems (moving away from Windows)


While some rely on Mathematica most at Cern uses ROOT for data science. The impact on the science program is more likely to come from ditching Oracle databases and LabView... That said, this is an IT department initiative, users also have access to software from their home institutes.


There's a pretty sharp migration away from ROOT to numpy / pandas these days (at least in the younger generation).


Is there any reliable and good opensource alternative of LabView ?


I would argue any dynamic programming language is a good alternative to labview. I'm a proponent on using python for labautomation (we run workshops at some major optics conferences, see http://python4photonics.org for an unfortunately somewhat out of date summary about some of what we do). In my experience labview is a mess, it's only momentum (in particular drivers provided by vendors, but that is changing) that keeps it going. I find labview code developed by amateurs is an unmaintainable mess. Grad students pass along code from on generation to the next without anyone daring to fix some of the glaring bugs. Really use anything but labview, even if it's the buggy matlab instrument toolbox.


> I would argue any dynamic programming language is a good alternative to labview.

why? labview is not a dynamic programming language.

> I'm a proponent on using python for labautomation (we run workshops at some major optics conferences, see http://python4photonics.org for an unfortunately somewhat out of date summary about some of what we do).

python is orders of magnitude slower than labview and doesn't have any ability like labview to do true mulithreading and multicore execution.

> In my experience labview is a mess, it's only momentum (in particular drivers provided by vendors, but that is changing) that keeps it going. I find labview code developed by amateurs is an unmaintainable mess. Grad students pass along code from on generation to the next without anyone daring to fix some of the glaring bugs. Really use anything but labview, even if it's the buggy matlab instrument toolbox.

in my experience, code developed by amateurs in any language is an unmaintainable mess. that isn't a valid critique of a language. the same thing happens with amateurs who code in python. i feel python, as a language is a mess, and also as an ecosystem. packages quickly become obsolete or only supported in certain versions.

drivers for labview are really not the thing keeping it going, at all. most third-party (i.e., non-national instruments) companies provide drivers in the form of c/c++ DLLs, .NET DLLs, and LabVIEW APIs. since labview can call any of these, this is indeed a plus. however, it is the ability in labview to program windows, real-time linux, and FPGA applications and the availability of natural instruments hardware that easily integrates into this software platform that makes it a killer. you can do some programming of NI hardware with .net languages, python, or c/c++, but you cannot do the full gamut of windows to real-time embedded linux to fpga. and if you know what you are doing, then the dataflow nature of labview makes it extremely easy to build and maintain large applications.


Exactly. Labview is a mess anytime more than one person has to maintain a codebase. Source control tools are absolutely KEY to using any language for automation. Which mostly rules out Labview.

Do you have any more workshops/hackathons scheduled?


I know I'm late to the discussion, but I've worked on a very large LabVIEW program with ~10 active developers and source control was extremely important. But I'm talking about SVN with the option to lock files. If by source control you mean "distributed, file merge-based" source control like git, than I would agree there aren't good options for LabVIEW. But a central repo with file locking, small changes and LabVIEW graphical diff worked fine.


not even close. it would be very surprising to me if cern is getting rid of their labview dependence, as it will undoubtedly increase their development time and robustness (if they are doing things right).


I'm not even sure where the notion appeared that they have a systemic, large scale labview dependence. I always thought their data acquisition pipeline was a lot of custom electronics, piping data into fibre-channel? Not exactly sure, how labview fits in there?


i know that they use labview and national instruments for some components, but my comment was more along the lines of "if they have some large dependence on labview and ni hardware, then [it would be very surprising...]".

however, it does seem they have used it a lot, at least in the past. they have a site license (which is uncommon except for universities) and what appears to be a large internal component written in labview.

https://readthedocs.web.cern.ch/display/MTA/LabVIEW+support

https://readthedocs.web.cern.ch/display/RADE/RADE

https://sine.ni.com/cs/app/doc/p/id/cs-10795

http://sine.ni.com/cs/app/doc/p/id/cs-16048

if someone is heavily using ni hardware and software, then there are really not many alternatives at all.


The latter. It's about replacing things like Active Directory, Exchange, Skype, etc. None of the projects relate to the actual science, except maybe Visual Studio licenses? But I know of nobody that uses ROOT on Windows with VS.


The number one commercial tool used is powerpoint...


I'd like to see more done in the open networking space. Cumulus Linux was talked about a ton just a few years ago, but it seems like I haven't heard about it as much lately. Probably because Juniper and Cisco have (mostly) managed to catch up on the automation front.

I couldn't find anything concrete on the CERN website, but in their virtual DC tour I noticed HP Procurves as top-of-rack switches. I was really hoping to see whitebox switches.


I came across a white paper years ago (2012/2013 ish) on how they used Icinga (An early but rapidly growing Nagios fork) and mod-gearman to monitor their ATLAS computing farm. At the time, as a newly appointed sysadmin, I was looking in to possible solutions that could scale well myself and their usage was very inspiring. Eventually deploying something similar where I'm still working now.

https://cds.cern.ch/record/1455464/files/ATL-DAQ-PROC-2012-0...


Good idea but

> Needless to say, isolated initiatives will waste effort and resources.

If the centralized procurement approach is what put everyone in the current mess, what indication is there that a centralized approach to open source won't produce the same issues?

I personally wonder why commit to open source in a centralized manner vs commit to interoperable standards (but not the specific tools used to speak to the standard).


jury probably still out, and no direct insight, but the overall incentives/philosphy driving acquisition for each could theoretically be drastically different (e.g. optimizing for openness, community, xyz instead of vendor size, ability to negotiate discounts, etc)


E-mail and ip telephone migration to start... doesn't seem like a big deal but they have been with Microsoft for 20 years.


When I worked there, they had 10k+ active user accounts and a wealth of systems integrated into Microsoft active directory. The nature of CERN also means that multiple institutes around the world will have to adapt their systems when CERN changes.


Is there a public-facing list of project activities?


I suspect this is specifically targeting Windows. I think this would be a good idea for anyone really. I don't know whose or which decision brought MS into this mess, but this isn't a sustainable OS for the future.

Our company still relies on it, but any new piece of software has to be platform independent. Licensing income probably skyrocketed on MS end, but I don't think they made any friends with W10.

Maybe MS is correct that W10 will be the last Windows. But maybe not because of rolling releases.

Anyway, good news and the correct strategy in my opinion.


As long as schools use Windows, it won't die.


Businesses aren't using Windows because schools use it (I think Chromebooks and iPads are more popular among schools now than Windows machines because children can trash a PC easily). They use it because of a long tail of software applications that only run on Windows, they use it because of stuff like Group Policy and Active Directory, they use it because of a lot of things that Linux doesn't do as well.


Don't forget MS Office. That's microsoft's real crown jewel, and it only runs on windows, or much more expensive macs.


Yes, this is why societies must take care about which hardware and software they use in schools. In Germany, some schools opted for Apple hardware and software, which is equally bad.


What would be better? How would one measure "betterness" anyway? If it's the probability of having to use classroom computers later in life, your choices are Windows or Apple.


Schools are not to teach children to operate specific commercial products. The school teaches the basics so the people are able to continue to learn on their own and judge products and technologies. Schools should teach on one side simple hardware architectures, encoding of data, computer representation of perceivable things, and some programming. On the other side, it should put the digital revolution into a historic context and show the dangers that arise from it and how to act as an individual and as a state in it. This way the children can grow into informed citizens.


None of that is restricted because you buy a Mac or a Windows machine. Those things subjects you have mentioned are all ideas that are totally independent to the OS.

Why does it matter if they learn them on a Mac or a Windows machine? The OS for the most part these days are irrelevant.


Because it creates a dependence on the OS they use in school, and a OS is not necessary to teach the things I mentioned. The teaching can be done abstractly on a board and paper, or with interactive games. The practice can be done with microprocessors on educational board with plenty of easily accessible I/O.

And when there is a need for an operating system, which I don't see in basic and mid-level teaching in school, schools should use libre software, because it relates to public infrastructure.


> The teaching can be done abstractly on a board and paper, or with interactive games. The practice can be done with microprocessors on educational board with plenty of easily accessible I/O.

I support the educational board use, but you're describing a different kind of class that will enable students to contextualize the history of computing, describe the fundamental paradigms of computing at an abstract level, and maybe prototype some cool demos on a breadboard, but they'd balk like cavemen at modern computers. The idea of actively shielding students from the realities of modern hardware and OSes is ludicrous to me. Should driver's ed classes limit themselves to chalkboard theory and "libre" vehicles hand-built by the students themselves?


It's not about the history but the basics of computing. The boards can have multicore superscalar high-performance RISC-V CPUs, for all I care. From there you can go and develop a detailed understanding of more advanced devices and systems, if you choose to. I'm not against computers in school. They can be convenient and practical tools. Heck, I want computers in school, just not for just having computers in school.

Demanding every child in 7th grade to buy an iPad for math courses, so they can write on them instead of on paper, will not teach them about computers. They use them only as tools for the convenience (actually, they aren't more convenient; paper is extremely convenient for math), and the school has the possibility to say 'hey look, we are modern and digital!'. That is snake oil. The kids won't learn a thing about the excessively expensive status symbol devices they are forced to buy, especially not with Apple products of all. This is alienating them from what computers are; universal machines.

I don't have in my mind children that 'balk like cavemen at modern computers'. I think of children that can get excited about advanced hardware and systems, and see all the possibilities. They'd ask for the battery run time, for the computing capacity, for the I/O abilities, or the instruction set, etc. And they'd want to code the machine to do things they deem useful. That curiosity is not just not nourished, it is killed how it is done now.

Driving school has different goals. Cars are products that are dangerous when their operator is not trained. So the driving school is there to train people to operate these machines safely. General public school has the goal to prepare children with general knowledge, a basis to build on, so they can be informed citizens. Democracies crucially depend on that.


> Because it creates a dependence on the OS they use in school, and it is not necessary to teach the things I mentioned.

How? Moving a mouse around is the same in KDE, Gnome, Windows and MacOS. A keyboard is the same. The terminals aren't even that different (many Linux and DOS / Powershell commands have equivalents). Almost all modern programming languages are cross platform.

You aren't explaining how it creates this dependence, because I don't see it.

> The teaching can be done abstractly on a board and paper, or with interactive games.

You can't learn how to program or really know what the computer is doing unless you are using and trying to create something on there.

> The practice can be done with microprocessors on educational board with plenty of easily accessible I/O.

This sounds more like electronics class than anything else.


A mouse is not necessary to understand computers nor to interact with them. I don't want schools to prepare the next generation of Web users that can create an account with Google, but barely anything more; that way the democratic oversight of technological changes and powerful companies fails, because the citizens aren't informed and competent.

Humans are strongly bound to habits. I have seen that personally, and in reports about institutions doing the change. Some people were strongly opposed to change away from Windows because the alternative doesn't look and feel the same, so they don't like it. And that even if the alternative offers the same capabilities.

Building a habit around Windows is part of Microsoft strategy to bind people to its platform. That is why academics and schools get discounts. Public infrastructure like schools must not fall for this fixation.

Children learn how a combustion engine works, and how it can be controlled. Why don't they learn how a CPU works, and how to program it?

> You can't learn how to program or really know what the computer is doing unless you are using and trying to create something on there.

This is incorrect. The principles of a computer can be explained and understood with pen and paper. Even the execution of a simplistic computer can be worked out with pen and paper, just as algorithms can be thought and reasoned about that way.


> A mouse is not necessary to understand computers nor to interact with them.

Almost every operating system on the market comes with a WIMP interface that requires some sort of pointer device. So yes they are kinda necessary now.

> don't want schools to prepare the next generation of Web users that can create an account with Google, but barely anything more; that way the democratic oversight of technological changes and powerful companies fails, because the citizens aren't informed and competent.

You are building a strawman here. We were talking about concepts. Concepts can be taught on any modern operating system. What logging into Google has to do with any of this isn't clear.

> Humans are strongly bound to habits. I have seen that personally, and in reports about institutions doing the change. Some people were strongly opposed to change away from Windows because the alternative doesn't look and feel the same, so they don't like it. And that even if the alternative offers the same capabilities.

Sorry this is another mis-representation conflating habits with people not liking people changing something that works for them.

People generally don't like you changing things because change normally brings a new set of problems they don't want to deal with when what they already have works perfectly well. That is what they are really telling you when they say "It doesn't feel the same".

This has nothing to do with teaching computing concepts in schools. The reality is that only a small percentage of those children taught these core concepts will choose to pursue them in higher education.

> Building a habit around Windows is part of Microsoft strategy to bind people to its platform. That is why academics and schools get discounts. Public infrastructure like schools must not fall for this fixation.

Another way of saying this is "Apple and Microsoft make products that work well and people will prefer them if they aren't forced to use something else first".

Again this isn't anything to do with teaching computing concepts which can be done on any modern computer (or even ones from the past).


I was forced to use Windows at school when I was already using Linux at home for about 2 years. So what do you think I should've done here?


Well sometimes you don't get to use the tech you want. I almost never get the use the tech I want on a project, It is normally chosen for me by someone else and I have to live with their decisions.

People like to pretend that being required to use to use a Windows machine is akin to water-boarding or some other awful imposition.


I don't want to use Windows. I won't work for anybody that forces me to use Windows. I can choose where to work. Children are forced to go to school, it is obligatory. That's why it is not okay to force children in schools to use Windows.

Computers for children are used for convenience or to solve problems. Neither of which requires Windows, or any other vendor-specific platform.

It's neither justified nor necessary to force children to use Windows or any other specific operating system in school.


> Neither of which requires Windows, or any other vendor-specific platform.

If they don't require windows and it is OS agnostic it shouldn't matter whether they use Windows or something else.

> It's neither justified nor necessary to force children to use Windows or any other specific operating system in school.

You are talking about Children using Windows as if it was forcing them to clean chimneys. This is ridiculous.


Many schools are moving to chrome books.

But enterprise is the bigger deal anyways.


> As long as schools use Windows, it won't die.

Kind of funny in this context, since the specific impetus here is Microsoft narrowing the applicability of academic licensing.


> I suspect this is specifically targeting Windows.

It's not: it's things like Active Directory, Skype4B, Office, Exchange etc. Desktop OS's aren't covered by MAlt.


Are they using Linux instead of Windows already?


There's a mix of linux, windows and mac OS machines, depending on the use-case and/or user-preference. This won't change.


CERN is not a university and has no student, it's entirely justifiable for Microsoft to not give them a university discount.

Universities have thousands of students that do not generate any revenue. The standard licensing model per person or per computer totally breaks down in that case, asking for a huge bill based only on the sheer amount of users. Education discounts are adjusting for that, large user bases with no money to pay.

That being said. The CERN is a government entity. They should argue to be given government discount.


> Universities have thousands of students that do not generate any revenue. The standard licensing model per person or per computer totally breaks down in that case, asking for a huge bill based only on the sheer amount of users.

There are thousands of students, postdocs and academics with CERN computing accounts (way outnumbering employees). It's not like they're generating revenue either.

> They should argue to be given government discount.

They did, IIRC, but their status as an IGO didn't cut it with Microsoft.


IGO: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intergovernmental_organization

Honestly, it looks like the terms and licensing are being dictated by some dude(s) from Microsoft in the US, based on US norms. The way academy/university/research is organized and operated in Europe is fairly different. Bet Microsoft doesn't mind the added money either.

If the CERN were playing by US rules, they would be suing Microsoft to be recognized as a government or academic entity.


That moment when left-pad creates a black hole on earth


Wait. Why the fuck is there a cern TLD? Are ICANN naming TLDs after specific organizations now?


Basically yes: https://icannwiki.org/Brand_TLD

I agree with the move away from .ch, since it's an international organisation, but .int would have been the correct choice IMO


I expect nothing, and I'm still let down.


My gut says this is related to forced updates and unwanted interface changes in current Microsoft products. It's been super annoying where I work, and staff are pretty upset.


I mean, they list a pretty compelling reason from their point of view: Microsoft changed their licensing terms from academic to business licenses, which are more expensive.

I suspect they will discover over time that the fully loaded costs of switching are higher than the costs of the licenses, unless this is just a way of trying to leverage MS into giving them academic licenses again.


They say that the licensing costs increased by "by more than a factor of ten".

Given that figure, do you really think that one-time project implementation and switching costs amortized over the next X years + ongoing support would really come to more than 10x? How do you make such a strong claim that easily, any prior examples?

Not saying you're obviously wrong or that CERN is obviously right, but this seems to be a much harder call (and intuitively feels right in fact), given the number.


There was a push in Germany to migrate to Linux, and they eventually gave up on that, so yeah, there are some prior examples.

https://www.techrepublic.com/article/end-of-an-open-source-e...

https://www.theregister.co.uk/2018/07/27/lower_saxony_to_dum...


Politics, bureaucracy, incompetence. Munich wasted a lot of money.

Edit: here [1] is a good article (unfortunately in German) about the reasons.

[1]: https://www.golem.de/news/limux-die-tragische-geschichte-ein...


Do you know why they gave up? Did Linux not work for them? Or were they persuaded by the MS sales team?


I guess it's a little bit of both. First mistake they made was that they tasked local contractors (think O(1) people) with forking their very own linux distro from Ubuntu. Then they put a lot of ressources into the KDE3-fork which was made to look like Windows NT (because they were migrating from that in 200x and you know the secretaries for life...). In the end they wondered why all their application software was old and buggy and I suppose from the whole project there was no significant contract work upstreamed (think LO performance patches...). Also being 1% of the market apparently does not entice any competition in the public software (think access-frontends in VB6@1000€s per place) market.

Given this, some years ago, the mayor changed, Accenture did a 'cost' study and MS moved its german HQ to the city.


> I suspect they will discover over time that the fully loaded costs of switching are higher than the costs of the licenses,

Can't speak for large organizations but some of the more well functioning places I have worked on has been running without much Microsoft services.

Also for many of us sysadmins in many cases we would say we would possibly save more from not having to deal with the hassle that is Windows than from just the licenses.

I mean: having to run and patch Apache httpd or other standard technologies on Windows is such a major hassle compared to Ubuntu or or any other mainstream commercial distro.

You can of course just use IIS, but then you have to deal with the hassle that is IIS.

This is a bit tongue in cheek, but the idea that Windows is somehow easier for everything is a bit unnuanced I think.


You're talking about servers. I would bet credits to navy beans that most of the licenses are for workstations and laptops.


In that case, even better: (edit: I estimate) half the people at work run Linux or Mac. Linux percentage seems to be rising.

Officialy IT don't support Linux. Unofficially they'll be happy to make sure everything works.

We threw out MS Office many moons ago anyway, and management switched first and with genuine enthusiasm so it was no problem to get the rest of the company on board ;-)

And this is not the first place: Already in 2009 - 2012 I worked for two places like that; well one of them went further and almost completely banned Windows because the IT manager couldn't stand it. The other place just had a policy to let people choose, -and a dev team that would encourage people to pick Macs.

From 2015 I've been free to choose my own OS again.


Your experience is very different from mine. A cursory review of usage stats and other things indicates that my experience is probably far more typical.


> my experience is probably far more typical.

I guess you are right.

Still it hives me hope that things are changing for the better :-)


> I suspect they will discover over time that the fully loaded costs of switching are higher than the costs of the licenses

I suspect the switching costs will be higher in the short term for sure, but this also seems to be a strategic move.


But CERN is academic what do you think all those people doing PHD's


It was because CERN lost their academic discount for MS licensing.

https://www.geekwire.com/2019/microsoft-mum-cerns-planned-mi...


This should be an HBS use case.

In a quest for money they didn't need and likely were not gonna get much of anyways, by removing perks MS currently offered academic institutions, they've risked teh creation of a much greater threat that can undermine their entire business. CERN is an organization which could truly help create a set of alternative tools to MS products.

Talk about killing the golden goose.




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