Natl Science Foundation to fund $53 m supercomputer

CIOL Bureau
New Update

Duncan Martell


SAN FRANCISCO: The National Science Foundation said it will spend $53 million

to build a massive computing grid that will be the most powerful of its kind

ever completed and could lead to ground-breaking research that would have

otherwise taken years, if not decades, to complete.

Called the Distributed Terascale Facility, or DTF, it will be used by four US

research centers for research in areas including molecular modeling for

detecting diseases, cures and drug discovery, research on alternative energy

sources, climate and atmospheric simulations, among others.

The current grid, which is the latest example of distributed computing that

is becoming increasing popular, will be able to process 13.6 trillion

calculations per second and will boast some 600 terabytes of data storage, the

equivalent of 146 million full-length novels. To put that computational power in

perspective, it would take one person with a calculator about 10 million years

to tabulate the number of calculations the proposed grid could in a single



"All these (scientific) instruments are producing enormous amounts of

scientific data and the challenge is mining these data to get some scientific

insights," said Daniel Reed, director for the National Center for

Supercomputing Applications, or NCSA, at the University of Illinois at

Urbana-Champaign on a conference call. "This will transform, we believe,

the way science and engineering research is done."

Once completed in late 2002, it will be the largest, most comprehensive

computing infrastructure ever built for scientific research. DTF will be more

than a thousand times faster than IBM's Deep Blue supercomputer, which defeated

chess champion Garry Kasparov in 1996.

The DTF, which will be connected using Qwest Communications International

Inc.'s 40-gigabit-per-second network, will be built by International Business

Machines Corp., using Intel Corp.'s Itanium microprocessors and the Linux

operating system. More than a thousand IBM servers and 3,300 next-generation

Itanium McKinley chips will comprise the DTF.


The other research institutions involved in the project are the San Diego

Supercomputer Center at the University of California at San Diego, Argonne

National Laboratory, and the California Institute of Technology.

Unlike traditional supercomputers, which are typically housed at a single

location, grids allow for pools of computing resources by connecting multiple

supercomputers that are often in different locations via the Internet using

open-source protocols from Globus. Globus is an organization seeking to set

standards for grid computing similar to the standards that were set up to run

the World Wide Web.

Because of the open-source standards in creating the grid, a large benefit is

the ability to plug other supercomputers and systems that aren't based on Intel

chips and Linux into the DTF to boost performance and compute capacity even



IBM has established itself as a leader in the emerging arena of grid

computing, in which computing power becomes a resource and a service, much as

with an electric utility. Users, for example, would pay for as much of the

computing resources that they use, harkening back to time-sharing on old

supercomputers, but modernized by super-high-speed data networks.

"The goal is not to sell each of the companies in the Fortune 1000 a $50

million computer, which would be nice for us, but it's what's the best way to

distribute compute power into the hands of our customers," said David Turek,

vice president of emerging technologies for IBM.

"You simply focus on getting the work done and, in the analogy of an

electric utility, you don't have to worry about how your turbine is

spinning," Turek said.

While big for IBM, the win is also of note for Intel, the world's largest

semiconductor maker. Itanium is Intel's first foray into super-high-end

computing, and the company is seeking to establish Itanium as a formidable force

in a part of the high-tech market place now dominated by rival Sun Microsystems

Inc. and IBM.

(C) Reuters Limited 2001.