Setting a new standard in high performance computing, a consortium of Australian universities are set to link five independent clusters into an enterprise grid which will be operational by early 2008.
The grid represents a new level of research capability in distributed computing allowing the universities to perform experiments in computer science they couldn't do previously.
And for the first time, the consortium plans to leverage the grid for use by other faculties such as biology and health.
Led by Deakin University, the clusters use Dell PowerEdge servers with Intel quadcore processors and includes 700 CPU cores and 50 terabytes of storage.
The project brings together the unique expertise of Deakin University's work in distributed operating systems and Web services, Monash University's grid middleware, RMIT's expertise in distributed Web computing and Queensland's University of Technology's programming languages and operating systems.
Andrzej M. Goscinski, professor of computing at Deakin University's school of information technology, said the pilots have been very promising and there aren't too many clusters operational today running on quadcore processors.
This is because clusters are very expensive to run but Goscinski said the consortium has been able to undertake the project at a price that is 10 times below what universities in the United States and Europe are paying.
Goscinski said the Australian Research Council (ARC) provided $80,000 for each cluster and each university provided $50,000.
In addition to grants, the consortium has also relied on support from Dell to keep the project on track.
Goscinski said all of the identical clusters will be fully operational by the end of the year.
"We should be able to link the clusters using fibre optic cable to deliver a real enterprise grid early next year," he said.
"We haven't been able to move ahead because Geelong doesn't have fibre optic cable but this is expected to change around Christmas allowing us to move ahead with the project.
"In our tests we have been running some very complicated applications with very few problems although there has been air conditioning issues because the clusters generate so much heat."
Once the grid is operational Goscinski said there is a long list of experiments the consortium is keen to tackle.
"The grid will allow us to have a huge powerful machine rather than a set of clusters," he added.
The new system will enable the consortium to study service development and management, service-oriented architecture, clusters and grid operating systems, resource protection, security and the optimisation of the execution of sophisticated applications.
Meanwhile, Microsoft's technical solution professional focused exclusively on high performance computing, Frank Chism, will be delivering a presentation on the future of cluster server technology in Sydney next week.
The event has been organized by the NSW .Net user group with Chism promising to demystify clusters, farms and grids, in failover, load balancing and compute applications.