British scientists to develop ultra-fast grid for distributed exchange of research data

London 05 March 2000"Grid" is the provisional name for a brandnew network which is expected to perform a million times faster than the existing Internet. The "Grid" project is currently being prepared within the United Kingdom in co-operation with Cern, the renowned European particle physics centre in Geneva. In the course of this year, British government will probably submit a request for the reservation of about £100 million of public funding for the "Grid" initiative. The "Grid" has to enable the academic world to retrieve requested scientific information from anywhere in the world, within seconds. As such, it will allow biologists to exploit genetic data following the completion of the human genome project.


The "Grid" concept constitutes a high-speed network connecting supercomputers, databases, specialised processors and personal machines. The big difference with today's Internet forms the use of intelligent "middleware" programmes to facilitate the search for information and the exchange of data, residing at no matter which location in the world. As a result, users will no longer have the need for search machines, such as AltaVista. Several test beds for experimental "grids" are already being designed in the United States as well. These projects were able to be launched thanks to the funding of about $100 million annually from federal agencies.

A crucial test bed for the European "Grid" is Cern's $1.8 billion particle accelerator, the so-called Large Hadron Collider (LHC), which will present the world's greatest challenge in distributed computing by 2005. Some five thousand scientists in 150 universities spread over forty countries, will be working on the LHC, trying to fathom the secrets of the universe's origin. This will require 100 to 1000 times more processing and networking power than Cern, the inventor of the World Wide Web ten years ago, is able to handle at the moment. Researchers all over the world are depending on the growing need to cross-boundary share previously unimaginable amounts of data between scientific laboratories.

Therefore, the first "Grid" applications will be restricted to purely scientific projects, such as the creation of a "virtual observatory", to combine data from ground-based observatories, spacecraft and database archives; the processing of biological data within the human genome project; and the modelling of complex systems to simulate climate changes. In a next stage, the "Grid" will be disclosed to the industry and the public for commercial use, allowing the common home Internet user to also benefit from the major advantages, provided by this high-capacity communications infrastructure. Eventually, the "Grid" will enable anyone with a problem, capturing the world's imagination, to command a virtually infinite computer power.

According to Mr. Bert Dekkers, head of IBM's European Internet laboratory in the Netherlands, "The distinction between scientific and commercial computing is starting to blur, particularly for applications involving remote visualisation". As such, the recently launched Dutch Gigaport project aims at largely speeding up the Internet, primarily for scientific applications, but corporate industry can already use Gigaport to test innovative Internet applications. In this regard, Mr. Dekkers points out that the mobile Internet connections will be 300 times faster in 2003 than today. More information on the Gigaport project is available in the VMW article Dutch IBM division opens Advanced Internet Application Center for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. News sources for this article are the Automatisering Gids and the Financial Times.

Leslie Versweyveld

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