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Consulting on Timing Systems and Open Source Collaboration Tools at the Inception of CERN’s White Rabbit Project

“Timing is everything!” Nowhere is this statement truer than at CERN. So, when CERN wanted to renovate their General Machine Timing System, Cosylab was called in to gather requirements using input from other Big Science projects like GSI (FAIR), INPL and ITER. These requirements helped shape the White Rabbit Timing System.

View of CMS detector at end of 2007 © 2007–2017 CERN

Introduction

CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, is one of the world’s largest scientific research centres. A core part of CERN’s operation is the master timing system which coordinates all activities to produce a beam. Therefore, a decision to renovate the timing system is not something made easily. So, in 2008, when CERN decided to renovate their General Machine Timing System, they partnered with Cosylab for the requirements gathering phase. This contributed to the development of the Open Hardware Repository and the open hardware White Rabbit Timing System, an open-source solution to the design and implementation of an accelerator timing system.

The Timing System Challenge

Compared with software, the development of hardware has unique challenges when it comes to reuse:

• Schematics and PCB layouts are harder to share then software code
• The non-open nature of commercial tools
• The multitude of file formats

The obvious solution is an “open source project”, but if it is the ambition of an open source project to cater to the needs and demands of different facilities, then it is essential that there is a phase of diligent requirements collection at the project start.

Timing System Requirements Gathering

Cosylab collected the timing system requirements from Big Science laboratories:

• CERN

• GSI’s Facility for Antiproton and Ion Research (FAIR) project

• L’Institut de Physique Nucléaire de Lyon (IPNL)

• ITER, the international nuclear fusion project

The requirements were then organized into layers, starting at the lowest (physical) layer and moving up until the event distribution processor. Thereafter, an analysis was done to identify commonalities and potential incompatibilities.

The presence of a timing expert in Cosylab’s team was instrumental for choosing them as a partner in the early days of the White Rabbit project. In addition, the experience of Cosylab working on many projects for many different users in our community made them a suitable partner for the requirements gathering phase.

— Javier Serrano, Hardware and Timing section leader, Beams Department — Controls — Hardware and Timing (BE-CO-HT) section, CERN

Open Hardware Repository Setup

White Rabbit provides sub-nanosecond accuracy and picoseconds precision of synchronization for large distributed systems.

To speed up the “time to market”, Cosylab decided to implement and host the first version of the Open Hardware Repository website portal. With Cosylab’s understanding of open source collaboration workflows, they could quickly converge with the customer on the best setup and what needed to be done.

In preparing the first version of the Open Hardware Repository, CERN benefited from Cosylab’s range of skills and connections with many laboratories.

— Javier Serrano, Hardware and Timing section leader, Beams Department — Controls — Hardware and Timing (BE-CO-HT) section, CERN

How CERN Benefited

• Time saved by having fast research results

• Increased quality of requirements by adding a wide field of expertise

• Time saved by flexible addition of complementary development services

• Tailored solution fitting an open-source community

White Rabbit and the Open Hardware Repository today

On October 12 2017, in Barcelona, Javier Serrano was awarded the ICALEPCS Lifetime Achievement Award for his major contributions to the creation of the Open Hardware movement.

Javier Serrano receiving the ICALEPCS Lifetime Achievement Award in 2017.

The Open Hardware Repository currently contains more than 280 projects and subprojects, with White Rabbit being one of the key projects.

Download the full Case Study on Cosylab’s Consulting on Timing Systems and Open Source Collaboration Tools at the Inception of CERN’s White Rabbit Project.

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