Tuesday, February 1, 2005

Global brain emerging?

Cyber Age/ND Batra/ From The Statesman

Some of the biggies of the computer world, IBM, Intel, Hewlett-Packard, Sun Microsystems, among others, announced that they are forming a consortium to educate the corporate world to adopt open-source grid computing for commercial applications. The impulse is not charitable. It is competitive, and always so in a world dominated by Microsoft. The initial barrier to the widespread use of the concept of the grid may be psychological: Grid—> gridlock, which is a form of terror. A powerful idea is linguistically stymied. We need a new lingo, but apart from that, it is an idea whose time has come. And it is very simple.
When you turn off your computer and go home, no one can use the computing power locked in on your office desktop. Nor can the dispersed unused computing power of hundreds of other computers be utilized or leased by your company to anyone, which is such wastage especially when the power could be tasked to solve complicated problems. If you multiply this unutilized computing power by millions of computers around the world, India, China, the United States, Europe, you get some sense of the unused resources.
But this has begun to change. A few years ago, the National Science Foundation in the United States undertook an ambitious project called the TeraGrid. By virtualizing four geographically dispersed supercomputing centers into a grid, it became possible to make them work as if they were one giant virtual computer, which could be accessed from any of the four gateways. Virtualization is a buzzword of the cyber age. It is an Internet technology approach that optimizes, pools and shares resources so that supply and demand match in an ever-rising crescendo.
The supercomputing clusters that have been networked are: the San Diego Supercomputing Center at the University of California, San Diego; Caltech, Pasadena, California; the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign; and the US department of energy’s Argonne National Laboratory. Others are getting on the bandwagon. The TeraGrid is capable of creating eight times the power of the most powerful supercomputer today, capable of carrying out trillions of operations per second, according to one estimate.
Grid computing enables not only geographically dispersed computers but also different operating systems to coalesce as one brain, and provide the user a steady, consistent and economical access to enhanced resources from any point of access on the grid. The unleashed supercomputing power, emanating from a single unified source, could be used for solving large-scale data-intensive science applications, such as designing new drug remedies based on molecular modeling, tsunami-earthquake modeling and forecast, and military operations in insurgency-ridden battlefields. In a grid-based virtual laboratory, a scientist, for example, could examine millions of molecules in the Chemical Data Bank to identify and select those that have the most potential use for designing a new drug for breast cancer. The grid power could be used for teleimmersion, giving users high-bandwidth access to virtual environment such as a simulated surgical operation; a rising pandemic; or a massive stampede at the next Kumbh Mela in India.
Eventually all computers will be linked with local, national and international grids, enhancing computing power and sharing databases and applications that may reside anywhere. Just as TCP/IP protocol broke the barriers and made the Internet possible, grid computing must have a single worldwide standard and most bets are on the Globus, an open sources system that would make it possible to tap the Internet on demand from anywhere.
The Globus Toolkit, a collection of software applications and resources to support grid computing, could locate where a particular database is housed; how to divide and distribute a given computing work among several computers on the grid system; and whether the user is an authorized person. Once a handheld or desktop machine or any other device is plugged into the Globus, it would draw not only its computational power from the grid but could also use myriad applications, such as audio-video streams, databases, videoconferencing and so on.
A company needing 25 terabytes of computing power could simply tap into the grid to perform a specific task and once the job is done, the resource is returned to the grid for others to use. Your cell phone could become a gateway to a supercomputing power grid. Universities could form their own grids and be networked into national and international grids, creating the possibility of on-demand grid power. The central processing unit need not be on every desk, but those who have it could share it with others.
The wireless revolution that’s sweeping the world now would make grid computing a global phenomenon. Sometime ago Larry Smarr, an Internet pioneer, was quoted in Technology Review: “Because of the miniaturization of components, we will have billions of endpoints that are sensors, actuators and embedded processors. They’ll be in everything, monitoring stress in bridges, monitoring the environment, ultimately, they will be in our bodies, monitoring our hearts.” The foundation for grid computing infrastructure must be based on security as the first principle, of course.
Some regard grid computing as the natural evolution of the Internet. It is one of those technologies whose value is perceived to be so great as to make its universal acceptance inevitable, thus making it possible to define common standards that would transcend heterogeneous systems and turn them into a universal platform. When all major research universities and technology institutes are virtualized into one international computer grid, the impact of the emergent brainpower would be immeasurable. But think about what it would do to the business world when it goes on the grid. Imagine global retailers like Wal-Mart going on the grid to make their supply-chain systems more efficient. Grid technology might enable even Sri Lanka to compete with the Chinese textile juggernaut. Size and geography won’t matter.

No comments:

Post a Comment