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Experimental Technology Grid at University of Tennessee Receives Microsoft Donation
released March 10, 2000

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Jack Dongarra

865.974.8295


KNOXVILLE, TN -- The University of Tennessee announced that Microsoft Corp. has donated $225,000 in cash, hardware, software, and other resources for the Scalable Intracampus Research Grid (SInRG) project lead by Dr. Jack Dongarra and a team of researchers. SInRG is an experimental "computational power grid," centered on the Knoxville campus, which is being built over the next 5 years by Dongarra and his colleagues under a 5 year, 2 million dollar grant from the National Science Foundation. The SInRG infrastructure, called a "computational power grid" by analogy with the electrical power grid will mirror within the boundaries of the Knoxville campus the underlying technologies and research collaborations that are characteristic of the national technology grid now under development by the US research community.

"We are extremely pleased that Microsoft sees the potential in grid-enabled computing and has consequently chosen to support SInRG," said Dr. Dongarra. "This donation will not only help us take advantage of key Microsoft technologies in our SInRG research, it will also facilitate the transfer of our research results into the Windows environment and help our students exploit the educational opportunities that SInRG will provide."

Computational power grids like SInRG use special system software to integrate high performance networks, computers and storage resources into unified systems that can provide pervasive access for an entire community to advanced computing and information services, such as data staging, remote instrument control, and resource aggregation. The national technology grid is now growing out of the convergent efforts of NSF's Partnerships for Advanced Computational Infrastructure (PACI) and several other government agencies, including NASA, DOD, and DOE. SInRG's primary purpose is to provide a technological and organizational microcosm in which key research challenges underlying grid-based computing can be attacked with better communication and control than wide-area environments usually permit.

"SInRG's vision is one in which a massive pool of distributed computing resources becomes a routine and seamlessly integrated part of the normal research-computing environment for very large communities of users," said Dr. Dongarra. "Microsoft technologies, like Windows 2000 and Windows DNA, will obviously have a prominent role to play in that future, but to get there we will need to push the envelope as much as possible on the interoperability and scalability of those technologies."

Microsoft's hardware contribution will increase the number of SInRG's Grid Service Clusters (GSCs), which are hardware ensembles specifically designed and configured to fit SInRG's multifaceted research agenda on grid computing. Each GSC consists of a compute engine (e.g. a large commodity cluster), a mass storage device, and a fast data switch, integrated into a unified node and connected to SInRG via the campusí high performance network fabric. Combined with the software, software tools, and training that Microsoft is contributing, this GSC will greatly facilitate experimentation with SInRG grid software on the Windows 2000 platform and associated development environments.

The importance of integrating commodity platforms into the SInRG test bed was also noted by Dr. Gordon Bell, Senior Researcher, Microsoft Research. "The continuing high level of investment in commodity hardware, operating systems, and tools in today's PC market makes it essential that advanced research projects, such as SInRG, be able to leverage those resources and capabilities wherever possible."

Dr. Jim Gray, also a Senior Researcher with Microsoft Research, points out that building computational grids, such as SInRG, and designing computing and information technology components specifically to populate them represents an ongoing and fundamental transformation in the way people work with computers. "The concept of a Grid Service Cluster as something that tightly integrates computing, communication, and storage reflects the evolution of our computing model away from the use of segregated resources, connected by relatively low bandwidth networks, and toward a model in which storage, computation, and communication are being bound up in more tightly integrated functional units. Tomorrow's networking cards and storage devices will contain more onboard processing power than today's supercomputers."

"By the end of the five years, we will have seven Grid Service Clusters spread among six different locations around the campus, including one across the Tennessee River at the UT Medical Center," said CS Department Head and SInRG co-PI Bob Ward. "In one form or another we expect to encounter all the problems that the community building the national technology grid will see and we're looking forward to the special opportunity that this unique infrastructure will give us to address them."

Established in 1991, Microsoft Research is dedicated to conducting both basic and applied research in computer science and software engineering. The goal is to develop new technologies to simplify and enhance the user's computing experience, reduce the cost of writing and maintaining software, and facilitate the creation of new types of software. For more information on Microsoft Research, see http://research.microsoft.com/.

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