SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA--The first permanent international grid of supercomputers came on line today here at the SC97 supercomputing conference, and its performance--such as a three-dimensional (3D) simulation of two black holes colliding--awed onlookers. The new grid will allow remote computers to team up on a problem or enable people thousands of kilometers apart to share the same 3D virtual environment.
The grid, called GUSTO (for Globus Ubiquitous Supercomputing Test-Bed), links about 3000 processors at 15 sites in the United States and Europe. The network enables scientists to run programs on the computer of their choice. Instead of scheduling computer time in advance and receiving the results of a calculation days later, scientists will be able to find an available supercomputer on the network and get their answers right away.
Globus project co-leader Ian Foster, a computer scientist at Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois, predicts that the new grid will evolve as the Internet did--eventually serving to "integrate [supercomputers] into the set of tools that scientists use on their desktops." If the National Science Foundation's new high-speed backbone, called vBNS, represents the hardware of the new "metacomputer," Globus is the operating system, explains Foster, who developed it with computer scientist Carl Kesselman of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.
GUSTO still has some problems to solve. For starters, the software must be tailored to different supercomputers, which are often set up idiosyncratically. And given the high cost of supercomputing time, Foster wonders, "Will people let others tap into their supercomputers if they don't pay for them?"