AlmereGrid, the world's first city supercomputer, is taking shape

Almere 23 September 2004Today, the incubation of the world's first virtual city supercomputer was announced with the AlmereGrid project kick-off in the city of Almere, The Netherlands. This event took place at the last day in a week of intense Grid activity and announcements in Europe, that started with the Europan Grid technology day in Brussels last week and was followed by the Global Grid Forum 12 conference in the same city.

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In Almere, one is working on implementing the first heterogeneous city computer Grid in the world. In a first stage, this Grid will be used for scientific research. There has already been selected a medical research project. AlmereGrid however aims to perform specific research on how a heterogeneous Grid can interconnect and use non-central computer resources from individual participants and companies. Currently, the organisers are initiating contacts with all relevant Grid technology companies. During a plenary kick-off meeting in the Almere business centre, plans were being deployed.

Unique

The Almere-based initiative is a special project in four regards. First the heterogeneity of the Grid is remarkable. From the central AlmereGrid Exchange, communication will be initiated with all possible operating systems on which the connected processors are running.

Second, the citizens and companies located within the Almere Fiber-to-the-Home project (Almere Fiber Pilot) will be involved. AlmereGrid will be implemented in a tight social structure which will connect the pioneers in the test-bed area.

The third special project feature is strongly related with this fact. The fiber network is connecting the computers with a fixed speed of 100Mbit/s. This can be guaranteed since the SARA subsidiary in Almere and the service provider UNET are taking part as Technology Providers in AlmereGrid.

The fourth feature consists in the technical but especially human enforcement of leading technology companies, which are collaborating to deploy the project. According to the organisers, the uniqueness of AlemereGrid is characterized by the opportunities offered to the technology companies to discover the future possibilities of a large-scale Grid taking shape in this way.

Utility computing

Most of the computers located at home or in companies are not actively used during most part of the week. Pity, since a lot of scientific areas such as medical applications, are in tremendous need of additional computing power. Why then not use all this idle computer power for a good cause? This is the general idea behind AlmereGrid. Easier said than done, though. To have different computers in different companies and homes work together, advanced programmes and efficient high speed connections are indispensable.

When talking high speed connection, Almere happens to be a very attractive location to develop AlmereGrid since a real broadband network (fiber) has been built across the city. At present, there are already more than 2000 potential connection in the Almere Fiber Pilot. In addition, Almere is hosting a subsidiary of SARA within the city boundaries (and within the area of the Almere Fiber Pilot).

Complex calculations

Globally, a number of projects are already in use where one can download a screen-saver to perform calculations. The most famous example is SETI@HOME to search for extraterrestrial life. But there are also projects to perform genomics research or that try to solve complicated mathematical problems. On a computational level, these are simple problems. AlmereGrid is aiming to solve more complex problems. The fiber network and the relationship with the people and companies who donate computing time has to make this possible.

How is this addressed?

AlmereGrid aims to select a number of essential and appealing applications with researchers "from the neighbourhood". The advantage is that computing time donors can establish a relationship with the ongoing research. The computing time donors will receive a programme that has to be installed on their computer. AlmereGrid will only use the processors of the connected systems whenever the owner is not using the computer. The central server of AlmereGrid is hidden like a spider in the web between the donors' computers and the researchers' computers. The server is receiving requests from the researchers, distributes the task in small calculation jobs and is sending these jobs to the donors' computers. The results are being gathered and sent back to the researchers.

Feedback

There will be an AlmereGrid Web site at which one is able to see how many participants there are and what the available computer power is. If we take into account that a supercomputer currently has some thousand processors, this means that the computers of all participating donors will soon form a virtual supercomputer. In this way, Almere will have one of the first metropolitan supercomputers in the world. More information is available at the AlmereGrid Web site.


Leslie Versweyveld

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