The Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) is a joint project involving astronomical organizations in Europe and North America. ALMA will consist of at least 64 12-meter antennas operating in the millimeter and sub-millimeter range. It will be located at an altitude of about 5000m in the Chilean Atacama desert.
The primary challenge to the development of the software architecture is the fact that both its development and runtime environments will be distributed. Groups at different institutes will develop the key elements such as Proposal Preparation tools, Instrument operation, On-line calibration and reduction, and Archiving. The Proposal Preparation software will be used primarily at scientists' home institutions (or on their laptops), while Instrument Operations will execute on a set of networked computers at the ALMA Operations Support Facility. The ALMA Science Archive, itself to be replicated at several sites, will serve astronomers worldwide.
Building upon the existing ALMA Common Software (ACS), the system architects will prepare a robust framework that will use XML-encoded entity objects to provide an effective solution to the persistence needs of this system, while remaining largely independent of any underlying DBMS technology. Independence of distributed subsystems will be facilitated by an XML- and CORBA-based pass-by-value mechanism for exchange of objects. Proof of concept (as well as a guide to subsystem developers) will come from a prototype whose details will be presented.