FOSSR: Towards an Integrated Data Centre Network


A year and a half after the start of the project, work is well underway on the realisation of the FOSSR integrated data centre network, with operations spread over four strategic areas in Piedmont, Tuscany, Campania and Sicily. The work, which lies at the heart of FOSSR, will include the ex novo construction, expansion or infrastructural enhancement of server farms already installed at the research areas of the CNR Institutes involved: ICAR (Istituto di Calcolo e Reti ad Alte Prestazioni), Naples site and Palermo site, ISTC (Istituto di Scienze e Tecnologie della Cognizione), Catania site, IRCrES (Istituto di Ricerca sulla Crescita Economica Sostenibile), IT Office in Turin, ISTI (Istituto di Scienza e Tecnologie dell’Informazione “Alessandro Faedo”) in Pisa.

«In Naples, we purchased 127 servers and all the necessary equipment, such as Nvidia’s H100 GPUs to adequately support the increase in power. We are talking about increasing the storage capacity available to FOSSR, for the Naples node alone, to 1.2 petabytes of data. On this computing and storage capacity it will be possible to install the services that will be used by FOSSR for both data processing and analysis, as well as data visualisation and retrieval», explains Mario Sicuranza (CNR-ICAR), leader of the working group responsible for the FOSSR data centre network. «In order to realise such an extension of the IT infrastructure in Naples, it was necessary to plan the construction from scratch of a dedicated server room, where we were able to experiment with a design that reduces the energy impact by design, especially with regard to cooling and lighting. For example, indirect cooling techniques were used, such as positioning the room to the north of the building, and glass walls were installed to allow natural light to pass through and reduce the need for artificial lighting».

The data centre network, realised through PNRR funds, will provide access to hardware and software resources for high-performance computing (HPC) and big data storage through cloud computing technologies when the project is completed in 2025. The FOSSR research teams are already planning to use these facilities, for instance, to analyse and store knowledge graphs for the social sciences, using advanced artificial intelligence and deep learning algorithms, and to share their data, applications and services with the research community, policy makers, the network of stakeholders and the community of interest that is gathering around FOSSR.

«The network will comprise 2 medium to large, so-called ‘first level’ nodes, physically located in Naples and Palermo, and 2 small, ‘second level’ nodes, located in Turin and Catania. An upgrade of the CNR research area in Pisa is also planned, where additional hardware will be purchased and installed to support and enhance an integrated cloud platform dedicated to research, the Virtual Research Environment, through a dedicated IT infrastructure», Sicuranza adds.

Turin and Catania represent secondary nodes in the FOSSR data centre network. To get an idea, the ratio of technological effort between first- and second-level nodes is about one to ten: in Turin we have purchased and are in the process of making 15 servers operational, while in Naples an order of magnitude of 150 will be deployed», explains Giancarlo Birello (CNR-IRCrES). «The major effort here in Turin has focused on the adaptation of the existing server rooms: from 6-7 kW absorption, with the FOSSR upgrade this will increase to 45-50 kW, and consequently the equipment had to be adapted, such as a new generator and suitable uninterruptible power supplies, as well as redesigning the existing server room so that it can rely on an independent and dedicated power line and updating the cooling system».

The need to cope with the technological adaptation of the server rooms was a common feature of the FOSSR data centre enhancement project: the Palermo node, for example, could not rely on adequate facilities to accommodate 80 new machines, so the FOSSR research team decided to build the server room within a dedicated container designed to maximise sustainability.

The server upgrade has an immediate impact on the quality of the infrastructure available to the researchers: «Thanks to the upgrade financed by FOSSR with PNRR funds, the connectivity of the entire CNR research area in Turin has been improved, increasing the security of the firewalls and adapting it to the 10 Gbps speed that will be required with the connection to the national GARR network, the Italian network connecting research institutions and universities», explains Birello.

«The collaboration between the nodes of the FOSSR network has greatly helped the project’s viability, both in terms of creative problem solving, exchange of knowledge and experience, and economy of scale. In fact, people working within different Italian institutes on similar application fields had the opportunity to work together for the first time, laying the foundations for future collaborations with widespread positive effects on the national IT community», Sicuranza notes.

While the nodes in Naples, Palermo and Catania are a few months away from completion, the Turin data centre network node is expected to be fully operational before summer 2024, and will be a pilot site on which FOSSR researchers will be able to test computing power, software and services that will later be made available to the entire community, with the ultimate goal of creating Italy’s first integrated open science platform at the service of the social sciences.