London, UK The Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council is to spend £16million to create a massive computing Grid, equivalent to the world's second largest supercomputer after Japan's Earth Simulator computer.
Known as GridPP2, it will eventually form part of a larger European Grid, to be used to process the data from CERN, the European Particle Physics Laboratory, when its new facility, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), comes online in 2007. The LHC, a particle accelerator which will probe the nature of matter, is expected to generate data at a rate equivalent to 20 million CDs a year.
Grid computing shares the resources of connected computers, much as the World Wide Web (also created at CERN) enables the sharing of information between computers. By connecting large numbers of computers together, particle physicists are able to run simulations and analysis in a fraction of the time it would take to run on a single machine. Such work could also be done on expensive supercomputers but benefit of Grid computing is that it is constructed from cheap units and can be expanded or reduced to fit the users' needs.
Dr Neil Geddes, PPARC's Director of E-Science, said “Today's money will be used to create a grid equivalent to 20,000 1GHz personal computers. This is the largest in the world to be funded so far.” For the past year, GridPP have been running a prototype grid or 'testbed' across ten UK sites. From this they have developed the middleware needed for a larger Grid.
Middleware tackles issues such as security (e.g. allowing outside users access to a site's computers) and 'brokering' (breaking data up into packages to be sent around the country or even world for rapid processing).
GridPP's testbed was incorporated into the LHC Computing Grid in September 2003, which was the first time a production grid was deployed world-wide. GridPP is also working with projects such as the EU-funded Enabling Grids for E-Science in Europe (EGEE) which will integrate current national, regional and thematic Grid efforts to create a seamless European Grid infrastructure for the support of the European Research Area.
GridPP is a collaboration of 19 UK academic institutions and CERN. The University of Liverpool node of the Grid alone is so large that it is the equivalent to the 86th biggest supercomputer in the world.