CERN Switches to Vidyo

When it comes to videoconferencing, no one is pickier than CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research.  Founded in 1954 and straddling the border between France and Switzerland, this massive facility is home to some of the most cutting-edge research in physics.

Home to the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the world's largest and most powerful partical accelerator, CERN houses research by over half of the world's particle physicists - about 6500 people. They come from over 500 universities in 80 countries.

CERN's staff also includes highly specialized engineers, technicians, designers and craftspeople. All told, about 3000 people are employed to prepare, run, analyze and interpret the complex scientific experiments that make CERN a successful scientific organization. 

So when CERN made the decision to retire its proprietary video conferencing system and switch to Vidyo, it made headlines.

According to Dr. Tom Smith, the leader of Collaboration and Information Services Group at CERN’s headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, commercial products often lag behind those created by CERN when it comes to capabilities.   “Quite often what we do is invent our own because of a need we can’t meet,” he says.

To that effect, CERN has used a privately developed videoconferencing system since 1996, which has remained in use until this year.  This system outstripped anything commercially available for years.

But CERN is not in the business of lagging behind the time, and the researchers kept an eye out for new technologies to service their needs. 

In that vein, CERN piloted Vidyo’s conferencing gear roughly in 2009 or 2010, he says, to see whether it could scale to the needs of the organization, which supports 250 conferences per day, with 3,000 individuals participating in those conferences. The largest single conference had more than 250 participants, and overall provided connectivity for 3,000 connections of independent users in a day.

While CERN hasn't completely moved over to Vidyo, the product's support for iOS devices and scalable video coding (SVC) makes it very attractive.  

The equipment supports devices running Windows, iOS, Linux and Android. In a pinch participants could use smartphones and they have, but that’s a last resort as when a conference participant has to catch a plane and the only option is to conference in from the airport, Smith says. Support for iOS devices was something the proprietary system lacked, he says.

CERN is best known to non-scientists as the facility that discovered the so-called "God Particle," also known as the Higgs Boson, in 2012.  While the discovery made front page news, most lay people have no idea what the Higgs boson--or any boson, for that matter--even is.  According to Jonathan Atteberry at HowStuffWorks.com,

Some physicists have described bosons as weights anchored by mysterious rubber bands to the matter particles that generate them. Using this analogy, we can think of the particles constantly snapping back out of existence in an instant and yet equally capable of getting entangled with other rubber bands attached to other bosons (and imparting force in the process).

Finding the boson was no easy task.  It required time, money, communication, and tons and tons of data.  As Cornell associate professor Peter Wittich explains,

...the Large Hadron Collider works by smashing beams of protons together, with the collisions recorded by cameras taking 40 million pictures a second. “We think of ourselves as big data pioneers,” said Wittich, describing the analysis necessary to find significant events. “It’s the ultimate needle in a haystack. Out of 6 million billion collisions there are maybe 100,000 Higgs events, and we can find maybe 1 percent of them.”

While Higgs may be the most famous of the CERN experiments, it isn't the only one.  Here are a few other projects they are working on.

  • ALPHA: A project which makes, captures and studies atoms of antihydrogen to compare to regular hydrogen atoms.
  • CAST: A project searching for hypothetical particles called axions, which could explain differences between matter and antimatter.
  • OSQAR: An experiment seeking particle components of dark matter in order to explain why our universe is made of matter instead of antimatter.

And not content to seek answers in the tiny recesses of atomic space, CERN researchers are also on a quest to discover a rare archeological find - the very first Web page!

The key to the success of these and other large scale experiments lies in the ability of scientist, researchers and support personel to quickly and efficiently share data and ideas.  That's where video conferencing comes in, and that's where Vidyo shines!

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