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Updated 3:00 PM May 8, 2003
 

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MGRID to lead to third wave of computing

A project underway on campus is setting the stage for the University to tie into an advanced, interconnected computing infrastructure for sharing data, scientific instruments, museum and library collections and other resources. As part of the initiative, faculty are invited to suggest resources and projects that might lend themselves to being shared throughout the University and beyond.

The project, MGRID (Michigan Grid Research and Infrastructure Development), represents the "third wave of computing," says acting director William R. Martin, a professor of nuclear engineering and radiological sciences who also is director of the Center for Advanced Computing. "You can look at the Internet as the first wave. Then, the second wave was the browser and the World Wide Web, which allowed information sharing across the Internet. The third wave—the grid—allows users to collaborate and share, not just information, but resources and services, such as high-performance computing facilities, large data archives, remote sensing instruments and digital libraries."

The initial goal of MGRID is to create a computing grid for the University, an undertaking that involves assessing and optimizing the U-M computer network and developing, testing and implementing software that will enable secure sharing and collaboration. An immediate priority is to become part of TeraGrid, an $88 million National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded effort to create a national computing grid for all sorts of scientific research. NSF, which played a major role in the development of the Internet, sees grid technology as the next major phase of high-performance computing. An NSF blue ribbon panel headed by Daniel Atkins, professor of information and of electrical engineering and computer science at the U-M, issued a report earlier this year that identified computational and data grids as the cornerstones of proposed large-scale federal and regional investments in cyberinfrastructure.

Researchers already are benefiting from the grid approach. Through NEESgrid, for example, engineers and earth scientists involved in the Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation can share access to data, computer simulation software, high-performance computing clusters and state-of-the-art tools, such as shake tables and tsunami wave tanks that they can control remotely from their desktops. By linking scientists and research facilities in different geographic areas and encouraging the exchange of data and ideas, NEESgrid is expected to foster collaboration and quicken the pace of earthquake engineering. The team that is developing NEESgrid includes a group from the School of Information, led by Tom Finholt, director of the Collaboratory for Research on Electronic Work.

It's not only scientists who stand to gain from grids, Martin stresses. "We're looking forward to seeing suggestions from faculty in Literature, Science, and the Arts—especially the arts," he says. "Maybe they have movies or high-resolution pictures or three-dimensional holograms that require a lot of network bandwidth. We're going to have plenty of bandwidth, so if there's a really cool thing here at Michigan that people somewhere else want to see, or do, or work with, we can make that happen."

Educational experiences also could be shared over the grid, Martin says. "Perhaps classroom laboratories here have specialized equipment that's too expensive for some other schools to afford." There may be ways to share access and even simulate the feel of operating the equipment for students at remote locations.

MGRID—a cooperative venture sponsored by the Office of the Provost, the Office of the Vice President for Research, LSA, the College of Engineering, the Michigan Center for Biological Information, the Mental Health Research Institute and the School of Information—is hiring software developers to work exclusively on the project. "They'll work with faculty and staff to see what needs to be done to get their resources on the grid," Martin says. "They'll get in there in the trenches with them and make it work—and not just make it work, but make it adhere to the standards of the grid, so that it's portable and can be accessed anywhere."

At the U-M there are major projects underway which are engaged in the creation and deployment of grid technologies, and members of these projects were instrumental in generating the concept of a coordinated campus-based grid research and development activity. These projects or units include the Center for Advanced Computing (http://cac.engin.umich.edu/) in the College of Engineering, the NSF-funded NPACI (National Partnership for Advanced Computational Infrastructure) grant, the Visible Human Project (http://vhp.med.umich.edu), the ATLAS high energy physics project (http://atlas.physics.lsa.umich.edu), the Center for Information Technology Integration (http://www.citi.umich.edu/), and the NEESGrid project referenced above. Teams from these projects will be critical participants in the ongoing MGRID effort.

Faculty who wish to suggest a project or resource for inclusion in MGRID may respond to the Request for Expressions of Interest on the MGRID homepage (http://www.mgrid.umich.edu/). Additional information on MGRID is available on the homepage and from Martin, at (734) 764-5534 or wrm@umich.edu.

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