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NSF to Support Grid Software With $13M

11/30/05
The Globus Toolkit, co-developed by USC in 1996, is used in top science and engineering projects around the world.
By Eric Mankin
Carl Kesselman of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering's Information Sciences Institute said the award allows the university to make long-term plans.

The National Science Foundation has awarded $13.3 million to co-developers of an open-source grid software that underpins a rapidly increasing number of large information-intensive science projects in the U.S. and abroad.

Members of USC and the University of Chicago will lead a five-year effort to sustain and enhance the open-source grid software known as the Globus Toolkit.

“What’s exciting about this award is that it permits both ourselves and our partners to make long-term plans,” said Carl Kesselman of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering’s Information Sciences Institute. “Many projects that use Globus software have five or even 10-year planning horizons. We can now engage with them in defining and developing the software technology needed to support 21st century science and engineering.”

The NSF award, titled “Community Driven Improvement of Globus Software,” will support scientists and engineers at USC/ISI and in Chicago.

Staff at those two organizations, along with other Globus developers around the world, will work with the scientific community to define and prioritize Globus enhancements.

Globus is open-source software for distributed computer systems, freely available for use (and modification) by programmers. It is designed to coordinate the use of geographically distant computers their raw computing power, the data they contain and the instruments controlled by them.

The software addresses the security, data-management, execution management, resource discovery and other issues that arise from such sharing.

“A growing skyscraper of front-line research is now based on Globus,” said Ian Foster of the University of Chicago. “This grant will secure the foundations of that skyscraper. Researchers and educators can now build on this software with confidence, knowing that a dedicated team is available to address problems and to enhance its capabilities as their needs evolve.”

Foster and Kesselman began the Globus effort in 1996 with their colleague Steve Tuecke, now CEO of Univa Corp., which builds industry applications based on Globus.

Globus now enables numerous highly visible projects, including the U.S. TeraGrid national computing infrastructure project and NEESGrid earthquake engineering system, the international LHC particle physics grid and major efforts in astronomy, genomics and other fields.

Charlie Catlett, TeraGrid director, said: “It is Globus software that allows TeraGrid’s eight sites to function as a single distributed facility and thus enables frontier computations in fields as diverse as medicine and environmental science. This award is great news for U.S. science and engineering.”

The Laser Interferometry Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO), which was established to search for evidence of gravitational waves predicted by Einstein’s theory of relativity, uses Globus software to distribute more than a terabyte (1 million megabytes) of data per day to each of eight sites across the U.S. and Europe.

Caltech’s Albert Lazzarini, LIGO laboratory data and computing group leader, noted that “Globus provides a common foundation of grid middleware on which the science and engineering community has been able to build. Globus not only enables individual projects to advance, but also promotes cross-disciplinary connections that are important to discovery and progress at the frontiers of science and engineering.”

The new award is funded by the NSF Middleware Initiative program of the NSF’s Office of Cyberinfrastructure (OCI), which NSF established to produce and apply the enabling software technology (“middleware”) needed by scientific applications.

Deborah Crawford, acting director of OCI, said: “Technologies like Globus are key to delivering the promise of cyberinfrastructure, by providing a broad set of integrated technologies to support complex, multi-scale and cooperative scientific endeavors.”

Development of Globus software was first supported by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the Department of Energy (DOE), and later also NSF, IBM and Microsoft. The DOE and (in Europe) the United Kingdom’s Engineering and Sciences Research Council and Swedish Research Council continue to provide important support for Globus-related research and development.

In addition, the open-source nature of the software allows a large international community of developers and users, in both research and industry, to contribute to its development.