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Grid computing takes center stage in Chicago
February 27, 2002 10:00
By Jeff Meredith

CHICAGO - The Department of Defense is funding a new computer lab at the Illinois Institute of Technology that hopes to advance grid computing – aimed at bringing the resources of supercomputing to the individual user. Working a bit like an electric system, grid computing enables a few supercomputers, or computer farms, to generate the power for the processes of a vast network of users.

“Computer farms will provide computing power remotely, and people can use palm-type devices that derive their computing power from the computer farms,” said IIT associate professor of computer science Dr. Xian-He Sun.

IIT’s lab includes a Sun Microsystems 64-node computer farm – 64 computer linked together for a supercomputer – a four-processor E450 file server and 12 high-end workstations. The equipment was purchased with a $175,000 Defense University Research Instrumentation Program (DURIP) grant from the Department of Defense, a total matched by Sun Microsystems and IIT. Sun said another equipment grant was received from the National Science Foundation for $173,000 and other research grants – submitted by Sun and Dr. Ophir Frieder, co-director of the new lab - have been received since last February adding up to $1 million.

“Currently, we are working on a six-institution proposal, including Ian Foster from Argonne Lab, to build a Chicagoland grid test bed,” said Sun.

Foster, a scientist at Argonne National Lab, is one of the leaders of the Globus project, a multi-institution research and development project keying on Grid technology highlighted in a New York Times article last week. At the Global Grid Forum in Toronto, Foster and three fellow computer scientists announced plans for merging Grid technology with Web services, those trumpeted by Microsoft and Sun in the race to deliver next generation Internet applications. In a paper titled “The Physiology of the Grid: An Open Grid Services Architecture for Distributed Systems Integration,” Foster and his collaborators discussed how to build web services for the Grid.

Computer farms like IIT’s are based upon parallel processing, where multiple computers working collectively are much more powerful than they would be individually. Parallel computing is not a new concept and is used extensively in applications such as the Human Genome Project; it is often leveraged to accelerate data mining and analysis.

The Department of Defense has interest in parallel computing for battlefield situations, stressing faster computer simulations and information retrieval. When asked about other applications for parallel computing, Sun said, “Too many, from web searches to WalMart’s data warehouse, to web servers - all are applications of parallel processing.”

Classical applications include global climate modeling, quantum chemical reaction dynamics, computational fluid dynamics, earthquake simulation, and information retrieval, said Sun.