National grid computing project launched

The Australian Partnership for Advanced Computing (APAC) is working to establish a national grid to integrate eight supercomputing facilities around the country.

Putting to work recently approved federal government funding of $29 million, nine projects have been approved as part of the APAC Grid Project.

The project aims to provide seamless access within three years to geographically-dispersed computing power covering 1200 end users linking a potential 4000 processors.

APAC’s executive director John O’Callaghan said the nine projects cover six applications in astronomy, physics, chemistry, earth science, geosciences, and bioinformatics, and three infrastructure projects in computing, storage and visualization.

“We would like to have people at different locations visualise the same object, for example, some dataset or manufacturing product,” O’Callaghan said.

“First, we need to allow users to seamlessly access the grid, for example through single sign-on, so someone in Sydney can access resources in Canberra.”

The APAC Grid Project is modelled on the Teragrid project in the US and the EGEE project in Europe which are aiming to provide geographically dispersed computing resources.

“It’s not easy to do that as you need to support users in a reliable, robust way,” he said.

“We have a group of eight researchers in the UK supporting collaboration and in two weeks 13 people will visit Teragrid in the US,” he said.

“We’re still open to people and institutions wanting to get involved especially to find the best way to provide research to the community.”

Other hurdles to overcome for a successful national grid will be that of managing security and information.

“There is more work to be done in security and information management, for example, information management was a key research area identified by NICTA,” he said.

“We know mass storage requests have been increasing rapidly – at 300 percent per year. There is now nearly 25TB of storage available to users and we have requests for more than 35TB.”

The national grid will run almost exclusively on Linux as APAC looks to migrate its HP Unix supercomputer over to the open source platform, O’Callaghan said.

“Most of the middleware will be open source, including Globus, a commonly used grid infrastructure tool,” he said.

“However, grid middleware is not robust yet. It’s easy enough to do in a closed environment but not in an open environment. For example, the UK has a particle physics grid that has problems when there is congestion.”

AC3’s CEO Phil McCrea said the APAC Grid Project is very exciting and has generated a large community of interest from researchers at its university shareholders.

“This project is creating the information infrastructure of tomorrow and could have as big and disruptive an influence as the Internet,” McCrea said.

“AC3 is working closely with VPAC and the outcome will be what appears as a single supercomputer environment over GrangeNet.”

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