This past weekend, the European Organization for Nuclear Research - better known as CERN - threw open its doors to the public. Held every five to six years, CERN Open Days are a chance for visitors to explore the facilities at the world’s largest particle physics lab, both at ground level and in the vast underground caverns where its particle colliders reside.
Guests also get the chance to attend debates and experimental workshops and to meet with the men and women who pioneer CERN’s research work. On 14 & 15 September, 75,000 people took up CERN’s invitation.
CERN is no stranger to hosting visitors. As diginomica has previously reported , the Swiss facility regularly offers guided tours of the campus and is home to two permanent exhibitions, as well as a gift shop, and provides visitors with access to a guest wireless network.
But managing the kind of crowd that CERN Open Days attracts, and bringing these visitors into areas of the facility that are usually closed to the public, introduces a whole new level of complexity. This year, a mobile app did a great deal to make sure that visits ran smoothly and that guests could make the most of them. As Eric Grancher, head of the database services group at CERN, told attendees at Oracle OpenWorld this week in San Francisco:
CERN is a place for experiments, it’s a place for R&D work, so holding an event like this at a venue not designed for it is very difficult, especially managing the flow of people around the the visit sites. That’s why it was decided that we would build an application to direct people from point to point around the campus.”
We made the decision early on that this was not something we wanted to deploy on-premise and also something that would benefit from the flexibility of cloud, since there would be fluctuations in demand for it.
With this in mind, the CERN Open Days app was envisaged as a digital guidebook, providing visitors with an interactive map ands real-time notifications about when specific events and activities were due to start. The idea was that the app would help dynamically direct them around the nine different campus sites open for the event, including the Large Hadron Collider, according to which of several entrances they started from and where congestion was building up. It also fed them background information about what they might expect to see at a specific site.
The application was built in 3 months with Oracle Autonomous Database at its heart and completed in July 2019, leaving plenty of time for tweaks and testing ahead of the event itself, as its lead developer and architect Viktor Kozlovszky explained. Oracle Autonomous Databased provided cloud-based transaction processing capabilities for the app, which also relied on the Oracle Cloud Infrastructure (OCI) Container Engine for Kubernetes, Oracle Analytics Cloud and Oracle Management Cloud. The Oracle technology underpins the registration capabilities, rather than the digital map.
The main benefits of this cloud-based approach, according to Kozlovszky, was fast provisioning times, easy replication for demonstrations and tests, and fine-grained scalability, both up and down. Oracle Analytics Cloud provided insight into visitor demographics relating to age and mobility. Oracle Management Cloud enabled the team to identify any problems with how the app was running - they only encountered one issue on the day and were able to find a fast fix for it, he said.
CERN Open Days 2019 was a resounding success with visitors - as was the app, according to Grancher. It’s a small-scale but useful implementation by his team, which is more accustomed to using Oracle’s technology to log and analyse data flowing from its particle colliders, as diginomica’s Madeline Bennett reported from last year’s Oracle OpenWorld. But as Koslovszky pointed out:
This app isn’t about core R&D, but it was still a high-impact project and our challenge was to come up with something efficiently and rapidly that met the brief.”
And one, it seems, that would give visitors a day out to remember. After all, education is a key mission for the organization and many of those who attend CERN Open Days are children and young people - among them some future particle physicists, perhaps.