CERN Accelerating science

HEP community discusses creation of a Software Foundation

by John Harvey

A two-day workshop was held at CERN on April 3rd and 4th to discuss a new initiative for establishing a collaboration that would foster the further development of scientific software packages for use in HEP experimental programmes world-wide.

The response to the call for participation in this workshop exceeded all our expectations. The number of people registering for the event was 147; the CERN Council Chamber was full to capacity and more colleagues followed the meeting by Vidyo. Moreover there was excellent representation from all parts of the community, as measured by nationality, and with good participation by HEP labs and by universities. There was a lively discussion throughout the meeting; the goals of the initiative were clarified, issues connected to establishing a governance model were debated and a consensus started to emerge on how to proceed.

It was agreed that the goals of the initiative can be summarised as follows:

  • to better meet the rapidly growing needs for simulation, reconstruction and analysis of current and future HEP experiments;
  • to enable the emergence of new projects that aim to adapt to new technologies, to improve the performance, to provide innovative capabilities and to reduce the maintenance effort;
  • to further promote the maintenance and development of common software projects and thereby make the best use of available manpower and expertise;
  • to enable potential new collaborators to become involved;
  • to identify priorities and roadmaps;
  • to promote collaboration with other scientific disciplines.

There was a lot of debate concerning the choice of governance model. Many comments suggested the need for a loosely coupled model of collaboration along the lines of a 'software foundation'. This has been successfully used in managing large open-source projects, the Apache foundation being quoted as a good example. It was therefore agreed to aim for creating such a foundation that would endorse projects that are widely adopted and which would have an incubator function for promoting new ideas that show promise for future widespread use. 

A key aim of the 'foundation' would be to foster collaboration. Developers would publish their software under the umbrella of the ‘foundation’. In return their software would become more visible and interoperability with the other software packages would be verified. Sound engineering practices would be applied to ensure that portability, performance and other quality factors could be guaranteed. In the HEP context, a foundation could also provide resources for life-cycle tasks such as building, testing and deployment of software packages to the whole user community. As part of its normal activities, the 'foundation' would periodically review the status and progress made in each of its projects, to identify areas for improvement and to help ensure the confidence of the user community and funding agencies.

The meeting concluded with an invitation to delegates to prepare white paper(s) describing the key elements of a 'HEP Software Foundation' on a timescale of ~1 month. The white papers should cover topics that describe the goals, scope, development model, policies and governance model. The next step would be to work on a consensus paper that can form the basis for setting up a 'software foundation’ that can be discussed in a second workshop to be held some time in the fall 2014.  

Read more in the workshop's indico page:


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