New software enables rapid response to time-critical emergencies

Argonne 16 November 2006Researchers at the United States Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory and the University of Chicago demonstrated a new specialized software system at Supercomputing 2006 that provides computational resources quickly for emergency applications affecting public health, safety and security. This new system, called Special PRiority and Urgent Computing Environment (SPRUCE), supports urgent computing on both traditional supercomputers and distributed computational Grids.


The SPRUCE system was demonstrated at the Argonne and TeraGrid booths at SC06, the world's premier supercomputing and networking conference. The demonstration featured a hypothetical situation in which scientists requested immediate access to the TeraGrid supercomputers at the University of Chicago to make time-sensitive analyses of a fast-evolving weather emergency.

"SPRUCE makes massive resources available on short notice for critical applications", stated Pete Beckman, leader of the SPRUCE project and computer scientist at Argonne, as well as a senior fellow at the University of Chicago Computation Institute.

The system provides users with "right-of-way" tokens applicable to a select set of computer resources and urgency levels. During an emergency, a token can be activated either automatically via Web services or manually from a Web-based portal. Computer resources that are linked into the SPRUCE system can respond to the emergency call, for example, by pre-empting other jobs or running them immediately after the current job completes.

"Severe weather prediction can be computationally intensive, and naturally the workload is unpredictable", stated Kelvin Droegemeier, head of the National Science Foundation LEAD project - Linked Environments for Atmospheric Discovery - and Associate Vice President for Research at the University of Oklahoma. "We need access to supercomputers quickly when severe storm forecasts are required. With SPRUCE, we can rapidly get resources at some of the nation's largest supercomputer centres."

"Integrating the weather forecast models available from the LEAD Web portal with SPRUCE demonstrates the flexibility of our advanced Web-based tools for collaboration and scientific computation", stated Dennis Gannon, a computer science professor at Indiana University, who is co-director of the LEAD Web portal with Beth Plale, also a professor at Indiana University.

"By providing fast, immediate access, SPRUCE can assist with urgent decisions required by flash floods or wildfires, where late results can be useless", Pete Beckman stated. "We envision in the future, that all of the nation's largest supercomputers will be ready to provide urgent computing to support and protect the nation."

The SPRUCE system currently is deployed on NSF TeraGrid resources at five sites: the University of Chicago/Argonne National Laboratory, National Center for Supercomputing Applications, Purdue University, San Diego Supercomputer Center and Texas Advanced Computing Center. The TeraGrid project, funded by the National Science Foundation, is the world's largest distributed infrastructure for open scientific research.

The nation's first national laboratory, Argonne National Laboratory conducts basic and applied scientific research across a wide spectrum of disciplines, ranging from high-energy physics to climatology and biotechnology. Since 1990, Argonne has worked with more than 600 companies and numerous federal agencies and other organisations to help advance America's scientific leadership and prepare the nation for the future. Argonne is managed by the University of Chicago Argonne, LLC for the United States Department of Energy's Office of Science.

Leslie Versweyveld

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