Technology Partners

Creating alliances that deliver value

Diamond Light Source

A leading UK synchrotron, Diamond offers its wide range of academic researchers and in-house scientists access to its scientific facilities via NoMachine.

About the Organization

Located in South Oxfordshire, Diamond Light Source is one of the most advanced scientific facilities in the world. Diamond is a not-for-profit limited company funded as a joint venture by the UK Government through the Science & Technology Facilities Council in partnership with the Wellcome Trust.

As a leading edge facility for scientific research, Diamond offers researchers access to facilities and expertise that enable them to carry out experiments which would be impossible in a normal lab through its highly specialised technology. The beamlines provided at the synchrotron attract researchers from both academia and industry around the world, who conduct experiments, assisted by Diamond staff.

Research from Diamond’s facilities has helped scientists of all areas from medicine to conservation. Whether it's unknown virus structures or fragments of ancient archaeological digs, Diamond's beamlines have permitted researchers to study their samples using a machine that is 10,000 times more powerful than a traditional microscope.

The Challenge

Being one of the world's top synchrotron facilities, it naturally draws thousands of scientists and researchers from all around the globe. Whether the experiments are private or in the public collaborative domain, running experiments completely via remote access is increasingly the norm.

Researchers typically require access to X-ray diffraction tools and macro-molecular crystallography software, mostly running on Linux hosts, to remotely control their experiments, and observe and download results. The Macromolecular Crystallography beamlines (“the Diamond MX Village”) are some of the instruments available via remote access. Samples can be shipped in and uploaded by the highly-skilled support staff at Diamond, and the highly automated beamlines enable data collection from anywhere in the world, removing the need for entire teams to travel. In many cases the experiments can run for long periods without interruption.

A resilient application delivery solution was fundamental to support the large number of researchers from across the globe, and local staff, accessing Diamond's hosted beamline resources. Diamond had to provide users with secure cross-platform remote access to a dedicated desktop environment, many with multiple experiments running at the same time, with the ability to effectively display heavy graphical applications over any network condition.

Given the number of hosts being accessed and the infrastructure’s complexity, it was essential to keep access centralized with the possibility of configuring access by means of profiles and user privileges to ensure users were accessing the right application on the right server. RDP support was also a requirement in order to allow some users to access a number of Windows applications running on Windows Terminal Servers.

The Solution

NoMachine Enterprise Server v.5 was the key element in the chosen solution providing a “unified front door” to the myriad of beamline hosts. Enterprise Server with a cluster of Terminal Server Linux Nodes and large mix of Workstations provides centralized access to the "beamline" hosts so that users can remotely operate their experiments running in virtual Linux desktops and staff can support users who are local to those workstations. Use of NoMachine’s built-in load-balancing algorithms and profiles guarantees that on-the-fly users, pre-booked beamtime users and beamline staff all get access to the appropriate workstation or load-balanced session on the Terminal Server Nodes accordingly.

A second cluster, for staff only, with NoMachine Enterprise Server and Terminal Server Linux Nodes was chosen to provide a secure way for 250+ staff members to carry out remote support and data analysis as well as work off site totally separate from external researchers’ experiments.

Results

NoMachine has proven to be a successful remote access solution for Diamond, providing connections to critical research tools on the synchrotron beamlines and custom Diamond software. Remote access and robotics allow scientists to send in the samples and then collect the data from wherever their location is. There is no need to travel and it allows a greater number of people to participate in the experiments. Diamond uploads the samples, and researchers can connect to Diamond's network and control the instruments remotely. Thanks to NoMachine’s desktop sharing functionality, users can share their beamtime with colleagues elsewhere in the world making efficient use of the time difference.

The Enterprise Server Cluster for staff only, provides access to machine control variables through a technology known as "Channel Access", this means staff can get access to status information about machines and the beamlines by means of EDM or CSS panels which are GUI frontends to EPICS.

IT Administrators are able to support staff and users by connecting in view mode to beamline sessions to remotely diagnose problems that they might be experiencing. Effective use of profiles permits sysadmins to route users to the right NoMachine node according to the application they need whilst keeping the load distributed effectively.

Senior Linux Administrator, Greg Matthews, said, "By providing a full desktop experience, NoMachine provides for sophisticated experiments to be performed completely remotely, thereby enabling science that might otherwise never be possible."

Networking Environment Key Benefits Applications Delivered
  • Enterprise Server v.5
  • Terminal Server Nodes v.5
  • Workstations v.5
  • Linux
  • Fast and secure remote desktop capability
  • Effective display of heavy graphical applications over any network condition
  • Desktop shadowing permits remote diagnosis
  • xia2
  • ccp4/ccpEM
  • DIALS
  • Microsoft Office & Sharepoint