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IBM, DOE Accelerate Grid Computing Plan

IBM Corp. and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Friday said they have accelerated a previous plan to build grid computing systems for scientific research. Specifically, the DOE's National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC) and the Armonk, N.Y. firm have two IBM supercomputers and one storage repository ready this year -- before the original target year of 2004.

Ultimately, Big Blue and NERSC hope to see the venture blossom into a system capable of processing more than ten trillion calculations per second and up to and a tremendous amount of storing capability. Another academic endeavor, the idea is for the system to provide ultra-fast access to copious amounts of data stored at national labs around the country. The parties say the systems will help in sweeping research projects such as global warming, genomic and astrophysics.

Grids allow geographically disparate organizations to share applications, data and computing resources. In this case, the DOE Science Grid's goal is to enhance the ability of DOE scientists to accurately chart physical realms and geographies through simulations done with the help of the massive computing networks, or grid.

NERSC has been operating a 3,328-processor IBM supercomputer, currently the third most powerful computer on earth, according to the TOP500 List of Supercomputers. To bolster the IBM system, grid software will be integrated into NERSC's HPSS (High Performance Storage System) archival data storage system, which has a capacity of 1.3 petabytes and is managed using IBM servers.

IBM and NERSC hope future grids housed at research labs in Lawrence, Berkeley, Argonne, Oak Ridge and the Pacific Northwest to be connected to the DOE Science Grid.

Horst Simon, director of the NERSC Division, compared the DOE Science Grid's capability to forge a uniform computing and data handling environment to the way the Web has been used to integrate online documents into scientists' research environments.

"The DOE Science Grid is a template for the kind of system that can enable partnerships between public institutions and private companies aimed at creating new products and technologies for business," said Val Rahmani, general manager, IBM eServer, pSeries. "This collaboration between IBM and NERSC is a big step forward in realizing Grid's promise of delivering computing resources as a utility-like service."

To be sure, IBM has of late paid more attention to the way grid computing may be used for business as opposed to scientific research. On Feb. 20, the tech giant announced its Open Grid Services Architecture plan to allow businesses to share applications and computing resources over the Internet. In conjunction with the academic group Globus, IBM wants to move grid computing beyond scientific and technical applications to real business applications.

The move was saluted by Gartner Group analyst Robert Batchelder, who covers market strategies for the research firm.

"With its Open Grid Services Architecture, IBM became the first vendor to take a comprehensive view and attempt to rationalize disparate, yet related, requirements into a coherent computing landscape. The company's move is insightful because the future networks share common problems," Batchelder wrote in a research note. "Grid computing pays substantial benefits for life science and financial service companies, and the breadth of applications that can use this architecture grows steadily. Enterprises can benefit from grid computing by deferring incremental hardware purchases or accelerating computer-bound processes. Gartner recommends that enterprises with sizeable desktop computing environments explore the potential of this promising distributed-computing technology."