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CERN prepares open source push following Microsoft price hike

CERN has launched an ambitious drive towards open source software after Microsoft revoked its academic discount and introduced a new contract which was set to lead to a tenfold increase in licensing costs.

While the research institute – which is home to the Large Hadron Collider – had secured a ten-year-long “ramp-up profile” to accommodate for the price hike, it said the costs associated with being billed on a per user basis were unsustainable.

But last year, anticipating the situation, CERN’s technology department began work on an initiative which would ultimately reduce the organisation’s dependence on commercial suppliers.

In a memo published on Wednesday (12 June), Emmanuel Ormancey – deputy group leader at CERN – explained that the initiative, called the Microsoft Alternatives project, has been designed to enable the institute to retain data, avoid vendor lock-in and create a uniform user experience.

“The first major change coming is a pilot mail Service for the IT department and volunteers this summer, followed by the start of CERN-wide migration,” wrote Ormancey. “In parallel, some Skype for Business clients and analogue phones will migrate to a softphone telephony pilot.”

“Many other products and services are being worked on: evaluations of alternative solutions for various software packages used for IT core services, prototypes and pilots will emerge along the course of the next few years.”

The institute is now calling on tech workers at other research institutes to join its initiative. Ormancey added: “While the Microsoft Alternatives project is ambitious, it’s also a unique opportunity for CERN to demonstrate that building core services can be done without vendor and data lock-in, that the next generation of services can be tailored to the community’s needs and finally that CERN can inspire its partners by collaborating around a new range of products.”

Microsoft has been reached for comment.