The roots of Grid computing in Europe lie in broadband networking projects

Heidelberg 21 June 2002Domenico Laforenza from the Advanced Computing Department at the Institute of the Italian National Research Council and also attached to the Department of Computer Science at the University of Pisa, offered the audience at the recent International Supercomputer Conference an overview with regard to the current status of Grid computing in Europe.


At the basis of Grid computing is the Globus project, initiated by Ian Foster and Carl Kesselman in 1999 as a blueprint for a new computing infrastructure to enable scalable virtual organisations. In Europe, things got started way back in 1993 when the European Commission first prepared actions on the creation of the so-called TEN-IBC Trans-European Networks with Integrated Broadband Communications.

In phase one, the Commission awarded fourteen project contracts for an amount of 1,9 million euro. In 1994, the contract was extended to conduct eleven trials costing 7,9 million euro. The trials started in the last quarter of 1994 and extended until May 1995. In a third step, there was a second extention to nine projects, estimated at 8,3 million euro. These projects ended between December 1996 and April 1997.

The first European Grid computing testbeds were introduced with the E=MC2 project in 1996, in which high performance computing applications were distributed between five high performance computing centres in France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, connected by the European ATM Pilot network. In this context, a number of strategic issues concerning the usability of international broadband links for a range of high performance computing applications has been identified.

Dr. Laforenza explained that the E=MC2 project aimed at assessing the power of European broadband network availability for researchers and commercial users using HPC networking in a selection of three sectors:

  • Meteorological simulation using coupled computing of the atmospheric and oceanographic models between two high performance computers and climate researchers at Queen's University Belfast and CERFACS at Toulouse;
  • Several distributed cluster applications in engineering and databases testing the possibility of distributed computating on a so-called meta-cluster including four IBM machines at CERFACS and 4 IBM computers in Stuttgart for Computational Fluid Mechanics research;
  • Remote execution and wide area load-balancing with ATM 10Mbit/s

In Lisbon 2000 at a special European Council, funding is allocated for the research networking aspects of the IST Programme, with the objective of establishing Europe as a global connectivity leader and initiating the evolution towards a fully optical backbone with improved capacities in terms of bandwidth and services. Earlier on, some 80 million euro were awarded to the upgrade of the trans-European backbone interconnecting the National Research and Education Networks (NRENs).

Also in 2000, the first workshop on Grid technologies was organised in Brussels. In 2001, Géant, a core network at 10 Gbps for Europe became operational. In addition, a comprehensive plan to reinforce Europe as a global connectivity partner has been established based upon initiatives such as EUMEDIS, TEIN - Trans Eurasia Information Network and @LIS.

Later that year, the European Commission decided to foster the World Wide Grid (WWG) technology for scientific work and collaboration in all kinds of fields through the design of middleware and by establishing testbeds, as Dr. Laforenza stated. In view of the upcoming Sixth Framework Programme, a consultation meeting was held on large-scale distributed systems and platforms, also including Grid-based systems. Soon afterwards followed a programme consultation meeting on research infrastructures.

The first European steps towards real Grid computing were taken in January 1996 when the URANUS pilot was launched which combined the computing resources of the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center and Sandia National Laboratories with the High Performance Computing Center in Stuttgart. URANUS aimed at simulating the re-entry phase of a space transportation system.

More metacomputing projects were set up in the industry including Mica for virtual CFD, Phase for drug design, Eroppa for the production of multimedia products, Promenvir for the simulation of mechanical systems, and Toolshed to create a parallel simulation environment for commercial mesh-based analysis codes. Another important initiative was Metodis in which metacomputing tools for distributed systems were developed at a European level, as Dr. Laforenza explained. Within the Esprit Programme JaCo3 was launched to establish a Java and Corba based collaborative environment for coupled simulation to design airplanes, satellites, and cars.

Meanwhile in the States, the Global Grid Forum Research Applications Group generated the SC2001 Testbed. In Europe, several national Grid initiatives were taken up, mostly in the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and Italy, but also in Poland, The Netherlands, Spain, the Czech Republic, and Hungary. In addition, the European Union is funding several Grid projects in the framework of IST activities between 2000 and 2005 including StartGrid; EuroGrid, Damien, GRIA, and GRIP for the commercial and industrial sectors; GridLab, DataTAG, CrossGrid (21 partners!), Egso, and DataGrid (21 partners!) for scientific research. The country with the highest degree of involvement in IST Grid projects is Germany.

The IST funding amounts to 37 million euro for projects which already have been launched and has awarded an additional 14 million euro to new initiatives which have been approved in the 8th IST Call. Dr. Laforenza cited ten start-up projects including FlowGrid addressing flow simulation on demand; OpenMoIGrid dealing with molecular science and engineering; Grace for Grid search and categorisation engine; COG, a Corporate Ontolgy Grid; MOSES, modular and scalable environments for the semantic web; BioGrid, a biotechnology information and knowledge Grid; GEMSS, Grid-enabled medical simulation services; SeLeNe, Self e-Learning Networks; MammoGrid, a European Federated Mammogram database; and GREEN, a Grid for Earth observation and environment.

In turn, the British Government announced a GBP 98 million (160,2 million euro) funding for a three-year programme on Grid technology in October 2000 and in the United States, the National Science Foundation in 2001 awarded $53 million (60,3 million euro) to four American research institutes to build a distributed terascale facility providing over 13,6 teraflops of computing power and over 450 terabytes of data storage.

Dr. Laforenza noted that in economy we are faced with the concept of globalisation. Maybe, in the world of computational power and Grid technology, the "Globus-isation" will end up to represent a technology risk for Europe, especially the use of Linux, or will it not? Mr. Laforenza looked at it differently and thought instead of searching for a "European Way" to Grids and thus re-inventing the wheel, Europe has to strive at a true international co-operative and competitive framework in which there is room and funds for creative ideas and practical applications without losing sight of what is happening worldwide in Grid technology.

In the next Sixth European Framework Programme, Grid technology will play a key role to solve complex issues in the areas of environment, energy, health, transport, and industrial design. In this regard, the DataGrid project will investigate how intensive computation and analysis of large-scale databases from hundreds of terabytes to petabytes can be shared remotely. EuroGrid will show the use of Grids in selected scientific and industrial communities using the existing Internet network between the major High Performance Computing Centers in different European countries to demonstrate distributed simulation codes in biomolecular simulations, weather prediction, structural analysis, and real time data processing.

The Damien project addresses the problem of transferring HPC tools to computational Grids for the industrial use of European networks. GridLab will introduce a user-friendly, generic and modular Grid Application Toolkit for innovative use of global computing resources in self-aware simulations adapting to a changing environment. CrossGrid will extend the Grid environment across Europe in a new range of applications including simulation and visualisation for surgical procedures; flooding crises; team decision support systems; distributed data analysis in high energy physics; and air pollution combined with weather forecasting.

In the meanwhile, the Global Grid Forum is working hard to harmonise standards relating to Grid technology in the Grid, e-Grid, and A-P fora. The speaker wondered if it would be possible to set up a brokerage system allowing to make available idle resources of anonymous web users for Grid computing. If we compare information technology with the evolution of the electrical grid, we see an exponential growth for the Internet linking people though it remains difficult to predict the future, according to Dr. Laforenza, but the Grid is blowing in the wind, just like Bob Dylan's answer...

Leslie Versweyveld

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