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image: Campus NewsGateway to virtual science
The Distributed Terascale Facility (DTF), a new scientific research data grid project, recently received a $53 million grant from the National Science Foundation, the largest grant the organization has ever made for computer hardware. Rick Stevens, computer-science professor at Chicago and director of the mathematics and computer science division of Argonne National Laboratory, will be DTF's project director.

"The DTF project is the beginning of a long-term trend towards building and deploying future computing facilities that are organized around the concepts of the grid," says Stevens. "It takes a community approach to build grids, and the DTF is the nation's flagship effort to deploy grid infrastructure."

The system-which will be the fastest network in the world when completed-will rely on clusters of computers at four research institutions: Argonne National Laboratory, the University of California's San Diego Supercomputer Center, the California Institute of Technology, and the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The partnership will work primarily with IBM, Qwest, and the Intel Corporation to build the facility.

A user-friendly software infrastructure called TeraGrid will eventually connect these clusters in a massive virtual system via the Internet, making it possible for scientists all over the country to share resources and information, regardless of geographical location.

The expected scientific breakthroughs of the next decade will require the kind of networked power the TeraGrid will provide. In order to see into the depths of the universe, the atom, or the brain, laboratories around the world must be able to combine their knowledge. Once accessed, this collective information will aid scientists' research by allowing them to analyze data on distant galaxies collected by new, highly automated telescopes; search for cures for major diseases by analyzing the human genome; run massive simulations of world climate to gain a better understanding of global warming; and study patterns of extinction and biodiversity.

According to Stevens, U.S. research groups that need the highest levels of performance and computing capabilities will be the first to use DTF. The NSF will determine who fits into this category, as groups of scientists compete for access to the system. Many Chicago groups "in physics, geophysics, astronomy, and biology have applications that could use this system right away," says Stevens.

Ian Foster, senior scientist at Argonne, professor of computer- science at Chicago, and the Grid Physics Network (GriPhyN) project coleader ("Chicago Journal," February/01), is also on the TeraGrid executive committee and responsible for developing a number of DTF's grid software and applications.

According to Foster, GriPhyN will provide software for the DTF project that "will act as the traffic police, managing the flow of data." Expected to go online next year and reach peak performance by April 2003, DTF will perform more than 11 trillion calculations per second and be capable of storing in excess of 450 trillion bytes of data within a super high-speed optical network, 50 times the data currently available on the World Wide Web.
-Kristin Scott



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