Thomas' Tech Tales
By 05/12/2008 16:25:00
The Grid Offers PromiseWhile most of use in the rural Northwest put up with dial-up or faulty satellite Internet, much of the nation enjoys high-speed broadband Internet. They are all blissfully content with streaming videos and online gaming and scoff at the Neanderthal notion of anything less than the status quo. Little do they know that their precious broadband will soon be left in ruins.
CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research) the masterminds of the Internet, (the World Wide Web was a CERN project in 1989) has been developing a new system that could make their own creation obsolete. Known as “The Grid,” this new system will be home to speeds 10,000 times faster than broadband. This will not only help the masses by improving user friendly attributes such as online gaming, high definition video-conferencing, downloads, and file-sharing; it will also help researchers go through mass amounts of data much faster than they are able to do now. The Grid’s first public debut will take place when the Large Hadron Collider (another device of CERN’s) goes online.
The LHC will probe the physics of the universe at the earliest moments after the Big Bang - and in the process produce 15 million gigabytes of data a year that need to be shared, stored and analyzed around the world. CERN began work on The Grid in the early 2000s after construction had started on the LHC. The amount of information the LHC will annually produce will be equal to 56 million CDs - an amount of information so vast it would take years to analyze by today’s means. In February 2006, the LHC Computing Grid broke the one gigabyte per second barrier for information transfer.
The Grid is able to meet these speeds due to its state-of-the-art materials. The Internet of today was based on materials already there. There was no massive overhaul in infrastructure to send out wires across the world to house the Internet; rather, pre-existing phone lines and cables were used to bring the Internet to homes. Today, CERN is placing fiber optic cables and routers throughout England and the rest of the world. Due to the amount of power LHC will need in order to process information, CERN has already placed 55,000 servers in 11 locations across the globe. This is expected to rise to over 200,000 servers in two years.
Unfortunately, if you are not a top level physicist, you probably won’t get any experience with The Grid for a while now. Currently it is envisioned as a purely academic forum, so that information from LHC can be shared instantly across the world. A public trial will take place late this summer however; college students in Europe will be able to access The Grid to share information. Results from this use will provide valuable information when applying the grid to the masses.
The Grid is already in use; for example, it has been used to process data to help fight malaria. Other uses that will find The Grid indispensable will be the human genome project, cancer research, astronomy, physics, chemistry; pretty much any sort of research where speed and file sharing is important.
Once The Grid breaks into the public use you can be sure broadband will be scoffed at. Until that time, except for those who work in the sciences, it looks like we’ll just have to put up with what we’ve got.