The “Grid”…..

Is this in our near future?…… I know this is a bit long, but, I thought it was very interesting….

THE internet could soon be made obsolete. The scientists who pioneered it have now built a lightning-fast replacement capable of downloading entire feature films within seconds.
At speeds about 10,000 times faster than a typical broadband connection, “the grid” will be able to send the entire Rolling Stones back catalogue from Britain to Japan in less than two seconds.
The latest spin-off from Cern, the particle physics centre that created the web, the grid could also provide the kind of power needed to transmit holographic images; allow instant online gaming with hundreds of thousands of players; and offer high-definition video telephony for the price of a local call.
David Britton, professor of physics at Glasgow University and a leading figure in the grid project, believes grid technologies could “revolutionise” society. “With this kind of computing power, future generations will have the ability to collaborate and communicate in ways older people like me cannot even imagine,” he said.
The power of the grid will become apparent this summer after what scientists at Cern have termed their “red button” day – the switching-on of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the new particle accelerator built to probe the origin of the universe. The grid will be activated at the same time to capture the data it generates.
Cern, based near Geneva, started the grid computing project seven years ago when researchers realised the LHC would generate annual data equivalent to 56m CDs – enough to make a stack 40 miles high.
This meant that scientists at Cern – where Sir Tim Berners-Lee invented the web in 1989 – would no longer be able to use his creation for fear of causing a global collapse.
This is because the internet has evolved by linking together a hotchpotch of cables and routing equipment, much of which was originally designed for telephone calls and therefore lacks the capacity for high-speed data transmission.
By contrast, the grid has been built with dedicated fibre optic cables and modern routing centres, meaning there are no outdated components to slow the deluge of data. The 55,000 servers already installed are expected to rise to 200,000 within the next two years.
Professor Tony Doyle, technical director of the grid project, said: “We need so much processing power, there would even be an issue about getting enough electricity to run the computers if they were all at Cern. The only answer was a new network powerful enough to send the data instantly to research centres in other countries.”
That network, in effect a parallel internet, is now built, using fibre optic cables that run from Cern to 11 centres in the United States, Canada, the Far East, Europe and around the world.
One terminates at the Rutherford Appleton laboratory at Harwell in Oxfordshire.
From each centre, further connections radiate out to a host of other research institutions using existing high-speed academic networks. It means Britain alone has 8,000 servers on the grid system – so that any student or academic will theoretically be able to hook up to the grid rather than the internet from this autumn.
Ian Bird, project leader for Cern’s high-speed computing project, said grid technology could make the internet so fast that people would stop using desktop computers to store information and entrust it all to the internet. “It will lead to what’s known as cloud computing, where people keep all their information online and access it from anywhere,” he said.
Computers on the grid can also transmit data at lightning speed. This will allow researchers facing heavy processing tasks to call on the assistance of thousands of other computers around the world. The aim is to eliminate the dreaded “frozen screen” experienced by internet users who ask their machine to handle too much information.
The real goal of the grid is, however, to work with the LHC in tracking down nature’s most elusive particle, the Higgs boson. Predicted in theory but never yet found, the Higgs is supposed to be what gives matter mass.
The LHC has been designed to hunt out this particle – but even at optimum performance it will generate only a few thousand of the particles a year. Analysing the mountain of data will be such a large task that it will keep even the grid’s huge capacity busy for years to come.
Although the grid itself is unlikely to be directly available to domestic internet users, many telecoms providers and businesses are already introducing its pioneering technologies. One of the most potent is so-called dynamic switching, which creates a dedicated channel for internet users trying to download large volumes of data such as films. In theory this would give a standard desktop computer the ability to download a movie in five seconds rather than the current three hours or so. Additionally, the grid is being made available to dozens of other academic researchers including astronomers and molecular biologists.
It has already been used to help design new drugs against malaria, the mosquito-borne disease that kills 1m people worldwide each year. Researchers used the grid to analyse 140m compounds – a task that would have taken a standard internet-linked PC 420 years.
“Projects like the grid will bring huge changes in business and society as well as science,” Doyle said. “Holographic video conferencing is not that far away. Online gaming could evolve to include many thousands of people, and social networking could become the main way we communicate. “The history of the internet shows you cannot predict its real impacts but we know they will be huge.”

4 Responses to “The “Grid”…..”

  1. #1 by huskysooner

    Some of the technology is interesting, but I read this sometime back, and I’m not impressed. It sounds like a crass, self-congratulatory promotional release for CERN/LHC.

    I’m not a network person, but just a few comments:

    The article acts like the internet hasn’t changed since Tim Berners-Lee “invented the web” in 1989.

    1. What about internet2, lambda rail, etc.? It’s not like we’re poking along with 1989 bandwidths.

    2. As far as the “invented” business, he certainly set the stage for the way most of us access information on the internet (hypertext/html), but it’s basically an abstraction layer on top of the network itself.

    Also, the particle physics nerds aren’t the only ones who crank through multi-petabyte datasets. Think climate model output, networks of 3D radar data, etc.

  2. Thanks for the input, HuskySooner….. I guess I still haven’t learned my lesson about passing on things that are e-mailed to me. I do try to keep them to a minimum. Being a person of limited tech knowledge of the Internet and one who hasn’t been tracking the latest technology, I was highly impressed on my first reading of this, but, as I re-read it after your comments, you’re right, it does sound like a blatant commercial for CERN/LHC. I guess I should have condensed it down some, but, I wanted to hear what our Community “Experts”, of which I think we have quite a few, thought of it, and, your input helped put it in perspective for me.

    I know that there are changes/improvements to the Internet on a daily basis. One last question – do you think there are any major super leaps that might possibly happen in the technology sometime in the near future, like the digital TV changeover, or, will the changes continue to be patchwork and layers?……

  3. Ug, well admittedly I skimmed the article. It was a bit long and painful. I especially hate the definition of cloud computing. The way it reads is hard to tell the difference between it and mainframe computing of old. PlEAsE.

    I doubt you’ll see a drastic switch over to something completely new. Instead the internet will grow over time to new and hopefully better things. Then again there’s this recent article that has AT&T saying that without investment, the Internet’s current network architecture will reach the limits of its capacity by 2010.

  4. The AT&T article was interesting….. So, basically we are relying on private investors deciding whether it’s viable to their profit margins to invest in further expansion of the Internet’s network architecture, while we wait around for it to max-out in a couple of years and possibly self-destruct due to overload….. Not what I wanted to hear, but, not entirely unexpected……

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