In case you haven't heard, CERN is flicking the switch (as such) tomorrow morning (8:30pm UK time) on the Large Hadron Collider, marking the culmination of over twenty years' hard slog and amazing technological development.
One side-effect of all the particle smashing is the ongoing data collected and analysed by the experiment... and the sheer volume of it is astounding; an estimated 44,000 Gigabytes of data are expected to be generated each day (approximately 43 Terabytes), and approximately 15 Petabytes each year.
So, who analyses all this data? Obviously, no one organisation could possibly ever analyse all of this data. CERN has already established the Worldwide LHC Computing Grid;
The mission of the Worldwide LHC Computing Grid (LCG) project is to build and maintain a data storage and analysis infrastructure for the entire high energy physics community that will use the LHC.
The data from the LHC experiments will be distributed around the globe, according to a four-tiered model. A primary backup will be recorded on tape at CERN, the “Tier-0” centre of LCG. After initial processing, this data will be distributed to a series of Tier-1 centres, large computer centres with sufficient storage capacity and with round-the-clock support for the Grid.
The Tier-1 centres will make data available to Tier-2 centres, each consisting of one or several collaborating computing facilities, which can store sufficient data and provide adequate computing power for specific analysis tasks. Individual scientists will access these facilities through Tier-3 computing resources, which can consist of local clusters in a University Department or even individual PCs, and which may be allocated to LCG on a regular basis.
There's a video explaining the complexities of the Computing Grid available from the CERN site. In GridPP, the UK collaborative effort, 17 individual institutions are currently collaborating to analyse a portion of the results - contributing an equivalent of 10,000 PCs' worth of CPU cycles towards uncovering the secrets of the universe... Including, just possibly, the Higgs Boson.
However, these academic institutions can't handle everything - even with similar arrangements worldwide. CERN realised this a fair while ago, and has partnered with Berkeley's Open Infrastructure for Networked Computing (BOINC), to create the LHC@home project. Just like other projects such as Folding@Home and SETI@Home, LHC@home will harness the combined power of millions of peoples' computers to process small chunks of data in one of the largest computing grids in the world.
The best thing? We can all be a part of it. All you need is a copy of the BOINC software installed on your computer; join the project (full instructions are available on the LHC@home Installation page, but there are only a couple of steps you need to perform) and then join the ITU@LHC team!