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A sovereign workplace for cutting-edge research 

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Work basis for scientists: The security of unique data – with the help of the Open Telekom Cloud

In this article you can read

  • why the Helmholtz-Zentrum in Berlin was looking for a fast, new solution for collaboration,
  • how the Open Telekom Cloud provided support and
  • how the Helmholtz-Zentrum increased its digital sovereignty in passing.
     

As one of the world's largest research organizations, the Helmholtz Association is at the heart of scientific excellence. Founded in 1995, it employs over 44,000 people and manages an annual budget of over 5.8 billion euros to advance groundbreaking research in a wide variety of fields.

The Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin (HZB) is part of the Helmholtz Association: at its Berlin sites in Wannsee and Adlershof, it is dedicated to key topics such as the development of new technologies to create a climate-neutral society. With its famous X-ray source BESSY II, HZB attracts scientists from all over the world who benefit from its unique research opportunities. As part of the public sector, HZB is mainly supported by federal and state funds. This enables HZB to work independently on pioneering research. HZB is closely integrated into the European and national research landscape.

Balancing act for top researchers too: growing demands in the digital world

Digitalization is not just a hot topic for companies – research institutions in particular also need high-performance IT resources for cutting-edge research. IT capacities are often even an integral part of research, for example in particle physics, materials development, or molecular chemistry. However, HZB is not only a research institution known for its leading role in applied physics and chemistry. It is also a public-sector organization. As such, it is part of the current discussion about IT sovereignty and the requirements of the national digital strategy to rely on sovereign IT solutions.

Cover image reference flyer Helmholtz-Zentrum

Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin and Open Telekom Cloud

Find out how the Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin can devote all its efforts to research again thanks to the safe workplace system.

 

Search for the sovereign workplace

HZB is involved in the Helmholtz-wide MALTGHF working group. This group is pursuing the goal of setting up IT in a sovereign manner – in line with the federal government's digital strategy. The HZB came into contact with T-Systems and tested a trial version of the Open Source Collaboration service, an alternative to the standard Microsoft products for collaboration.

Data security also plays a decisive role in the development of IT – especially for a top research institute. The HZB generates unique data worldwide, which forms the basis for the scientists' work. No wonder that this data also attracts the attention of cyber criminals.

The turning point: a serious cyberattack

June 2023: "Unable to work for months? The Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin is struggling with the consequences of a surprise hacker attack," was the headline in the Tagesspiegel. A nightmare scenario for any organization: no email, no Sharepoint – all internal IT systems were paralyzed. The head of the Application Services unit, Ingo Heinzel, and his team were under enormous pressure to find a solution quickly in order to be able to resume research activities. "We benefited from the fact that we had already evaluated Open Source Collaboration from T-Systems," explains Heinzel, "we had classified the service as a potential solution for the future in light of the sovereignty debate."

Heinzel decided to turn necessity into a virtue. He took advantage of the situation to introduce a sovereign, open source-based workplace.

T-Systems put together a strong package for us in a very short time and proved to be a reliable and competent partner whose primary goal was to help us – and acted pragmatically in doing so.

– Ingo Heinzel, Head of Application Services Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin for Materials and Energy 

Quick help from the Open Telekom Cloud

Heinzel called Marten Bütow, the Tribe Lead Collaboration Services. He got the ball rolling with Matthias Greska from Cloud Sales. "We wanted to help HZB quickly. As we already had the technical blueprint ready," explains Bütow, "everyone knew what needed to be done."

"A typical situation in which the Open Telekom Cloud was able to fully exploit its strengths," explains Stefan Schlund from the Open Telekom Cloud team, "we provided a tenant within a few hours, which our colleagues from Open Source Collaboration were able to use to set up the new collaboration backend". They brought the Groupware/Exchange applications onto the platform and began testing. Meanwhile, HZB's requirements quickly expanded: in addition to a Groupware/Exchange alternative, HZB wanted a complete collaboration suite, including a video conferencing system, chat and file sharing. The groupware from Grommunio was therefore joined by Mattermost as a chat system, Jitsi as a video conferencing system and Nextcloud as a file sharing system.

Shaping the future: Sovereignty and innovation

The Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin project with the Open Telekom Cloud offers numerous added values:

  • Rapid response capability: In the face of the cyberattack, T-Systems' rapid response capability was crucial to restore HZB's ability to work as quickly as possible.
  • Technological sovereignty: The choice of an open source-based solution in the European cloud underlines HZB's commitment to digital sovereignty and independence.
  • Sustainability: By operating in one of the most energy-efficient data centers in Europe, HZB contributes to environmental protection and underlines the importance of sustainable IT infrastructures.
  • Future-proof: The flexible and scalable architecture of the Open Telekom Cloud offers HZB the opportunity to dynamically adapt its IT infrastructure to future requirements.

Rapid recovery and setting the course for the future

"Everyone at T-Systems pitched in regardless of organizational boundaries to help HZB as quickly as possible," recalls Schlund. In just two weeks, T-Systems restored the collaboration functionality for the 1,200 employees. Nothing changed for the researchers at the front end. They continue to work with their familiar clients – sometimes simultaneously on four different end devices. Guest researchers and research assistants are now also back in the system – a total of 2,000 accounts. The Open Telekom Cloud can easily cope with the additional load thanks to its scaling capabilities. Currently (December 2023), almost ten large general-purpose VMs with 32 or 16 vCPUs are running for HZB.

This success once again underlines the importance of the Open Telekom Cloud as a reliable and future-proof tool for companies and organizations that want to drive their digital transformation without compromising on security, flexibility and sustainability. By working with T-Systems and using the Open Telekom Cloud, Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin has taken an important step towards a future-proof and sustainable IT infrastructure. At the same time, the HZB slightly improved digital sovereignty, as the backend is based entirely on open source and is provided from a European cloud.


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