Particle physicists in the UK will demonstrate the world's largest working computer grid this week, at the e-Science All Hands meeting in Nottingham.
The Large Hadron Collider Computing Grid (LCG) is made up of over 6000 computers around the world, with the The UK's own particle physics Grid project, GridPP, contributing 1000 machines from 12 different sites. The scientists involved will update their colleagues at the Nottingham conference on how the grid was constructed, and what it will be used for.
The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is currently under construction at CERN in Geneva. When it is complete, the particle physics experiments it will run will generate vast quantities of data: around 15 petabytes every year. The LCG was conceived as a way of processing the data, mainly because time available on supercomputers is rare, and expensive.
By 2007, the LCG will have the equivalent of 100,000 of today's fastest computers working together to produce a 'virtual supercomputer', which can be expanded and developed as needed, according to the UK's Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council, PPARC.
GridPP reaches its halfway point this year. The goal of this first stage was to create a working prototype grid. Dr Dave Britton, the GridPP project manager says that this target has been met. "Having proved that a Grid can work, we're now focused on developing a large-scale stable, easy-to-use Grid integrated with other international projects," he said.
Dr Jeremy Coles of Rutherford Appleton Laboratory is the GridPP production manager, responsible for making sure the Grid works on a day-to-day basis, and is already focussed on the next phase of the project. He says that there are plenty of challenges still to come, as the grid is expanded, and not all of them are technical.
He argues that as well as dealing with the technical problems involved in providing a stable computing grid "we need to address wider issues, in particular encouraging an open sharing of resources between groups of users".
The engineers working on GridPP have developed a map that shows how computing jobs move around the LCG. The map shows jobs being distributed to the most suitable sites on the Grid, running their programmes and then returning their results home in real time.
e-Science delegates will get to see the map at the conference, but in the spirit of open sharing that Coles wants to encourage, you can check it out here. ®