Italian National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Economic Development

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Software heritage

Innovation: The first Italian Software Heritage Mirror was set up at ENEA Research Center in Bologna

The first Italian Software Heritage Mirror, an open-access archive that collects, preserves and makes available the source code of all publicly available software in the world, started on December 13th 2023 at the ENEA Bologna research center. An international, non-profit initiative of great cultural, social and scientific significance, it was promoted by the INRIA, the French research institute on information technology and automation, jointly with UNESCO. “We are proud to welcome ENEA – said Professor Di Cosmo, director of the Software Heritage – as the first European institutional mirror of the Software Heritage, and we are eager to explore together the opportunities opened up by this collaboration”.

The objective of this digital library is to preserve an heritage which embodies the ingenuity, knowledge and culture of the modern world. Anyone can browse through this very special archive, among codes and algorithms that solve mathematical problems and reproduce models of complex systems according to the way science and technology proceed after the advent of computers. For instance, you may come across the Apollo 11 Guidance Computer source code, which 50 years ago guided man to the moon, or TAUmus, one of the first software in the world for computer music, created in the Seventies thanks to the collaboration between Maestro Pietro Grossi, a composer pioneer of electronic music, and researchers at the National University Center for Electronic Computing in Pisa.

Specifically, the ENEA Center in Bologna will maintain a mirror, which is a full copy of the entire archive, which today has more than 17 billion source programs, with the purpose of ensuring its safety and continuous availability. What’s more, access to such a wealth of codes and algorithms will give the possibility of studying and analyzing them, developing methods to obtain information and new knowledge from them; so in analogy with Big Data, we can talk about "Big Code", where however the large amount of source codes is used to train Artificial Intelligence to the automatic generation of software. “The Important work conducted in storage infrastructure and technological innovation in the ICT sector – said Giovanni Ponti, head of the ENEA Division for the Development of IT and ICT Systems– has driven in recent years the design and implementation of the Software Heritage mirror in ENEA".

The collaboration between ENEA and INRIA was not born by accident, considering the long-standing expertise ENEA has in the fields of modelling, calculation and code development, essential tools for progress in all fields of knowledge and technology. It was ENEA (at the time CNEN, National Committee for Nuclear Energy) which,  back in 1958, together with the University of Bologna created the first scientific computing center in Italy and established its own research center in Bologna two years later, gathering a group of excellent engineers, physicists and mathematicians around one of the most powerful calculators of the time, an IBM 740. Today, ENEA has still one of the most powerful supercomputing infrastructures in Italy with CRESCO6.

The initiative is part of a broader context which envisages the arrival at the Bologna Tecnopolo of the European Meteo Data Center and of Leonardo, a supercomputer destined to rank among the top five in the world, which makes Bologna and the Emilia-Romagna Region an international hub of High Performance Computing and Big Data.