From the CIO: Happy Anniversary!
It’s hard to believe that 25 years ago today the Computing Department, the Advanced Computer Program (ACP) and personnel from the research department merged to create the Computing Division. This year has special significance for me. A few months prior to the creation of Computing Division, I came to Fermilab as young graduate student on the E706 fixed-target experiment. I immediately engaged with the computing.
My first job was to build a data acquisition system using FASTBUS hardware integrated with a Fermilab written VAXONLINE data-acquisition software framework. In no time, I was working with Vicky White, Ruth Pordes, Terry Dorries, Carmenita Moore, Eileen Berman and a few others. They taught me how to do this, and with their help, I was able to get the system up and running in time for the 1990 fixed-target run.
There was one problem, though – I could not get the data off the memory modules (1892’s) and onto Exabyte tape fast enough. A young engineer by the name of Ron Rechenmacher and his logic analyzer spent a week of late nights with me diagnosing the problem. Ron saved me and figured out how to optimize the tape “bursting” to meet my needs. And so started my long relationship with Computing.
It is fun to think about how much has changed in the past quarter century. From the ACP and Amdahl mainframe, to VAX clusters and Silicon Graphics boxes, to the modern high-throughput computing facilities, the technology has continued to evolve.
Twenty-five years ago, experimenters brought boxes of tapes to FCC, where they were catalogued and then mounted so that the experimenters could analyze their data; whereas today, with fiber optic cables and tape robot rooms, there is a generation of students who have never touched a tape.
A quarter century ago, our scientific simulations were very crude – we treated all quarks with the same mass and ignored their different lifetimes to simplify calculations. Now, the state-of-the-art simulations model the data with amazing precision.
It is remarkable how far we have come as a field of scientific computing and how much of that innovation started at Fermilab. More than ever before, HEP relies on computation for scientific success. Physicists have grown more and more dependent on computing. We as an organization are more vital to the laboratory’s mission today than ever before.
In recent years, Computing has changed in character from mostly a scientific enterprise to “all things computing.” Housed within computing now are all of the IT efforts as well. This merger has made us stronger as we learn from each other and share knowledge.
What struck me as I prepared to write this column is not what has changed, but rather, what has not changed. I think we expect technology to evolve. (Do you remember your bag cell phone back then?) What has not changed is that Computing still contains a remarkable group of close-knit people with a tremendous amount of pride and commitment to the laboratory. We continue to innovate, push the envelope of what is possible and make difficult challenges look routine. I feel lucky to be part of this amazing organization and look forward to the future success of this division and the talented people that make it up.