things you should know about...
For years, Dr. Rayburn has been looking or tools to helphis architecture students move beyond paper sketchesand scaled-down models. He knows that as workingarchitects, they will be using computer simulations thatrequire not just design skill but prociency with increas-ingly complex sotware and hardware. Unortunately,his department cannot aord to purchase and supporta computing system with the necessary processing ca-pacity to run such advanced applications.Over the summer, the university’s IT sta, working withthe computer science department, set up a computergrid running on the campus network. The grid con-nects nearly all university-owned computers, includingthose in labs, the library, as well as aculty and sta oces. The sotware that runs the grid gives local us-ers priority or those machines, but when they are idle,their processors can be used over the grid. Using thepower o the campus grid, Dr. Rayburn’s students cannow use sophisticated architectural design sotwarethat previously was unavailable because o its pro-cessing requirements. With the sotware, students candesign buildings and other structures as well as the ar-eas surrounding them, and create three-dimensional,interactive animations o their designs. As presenta-tions, the animations allow viewers to “fy” over andaround the scenes the students generate, zooming inand out and moving in any direction they want to go.The university’s grid supplies enough unused comput-ing power to process the animations ast enough or itall to unction smoothly.Ater several weeks o using the sotware, two o Dr.Rayburn’s students persuade aculty in the meteorol-ogy department to connect a very large climatic data-base to the grid. The database includes data about theexact positioning o the sun and moon at any latitudeon the globe during daily, monthly, and yearly cycles,as well as historical data on weather conditions ormost parts o the world. With the database availableon the grid, the students can incorporate seasonalchanges into their animations. They can render a build-ing at a particular latitude, at a specic time o the yearor spanning weeks or months. Dr. Rayburn sees thatwith the new capabilities, his students are able to cre-ate better designs, ones that make more creative useo natural light—even as seasons change—and thatdemonstrate students’ deliberation about how theirstructures interact with the environment.
What is it?
Computing grids are conceptually not unlike electrical grids. In anelectrical grid, wall outlets allows us to link to an inrastructure o resources that generate, distribute, and bill or electricity. When youconnect to the electrical grid, you don’t need to know where thepower plant is or how the current gets to you. Grid computing usesmiddleware to coordinate disparate IT resources across a network,allowing them to unction as a virtual whole. The goal o a com-puting grid, like that o the electrical grid, is to provide users withaccess to the resources they need, when they need them.Grids address two distinct but related goals: providing remoteaccess to IT assets, and aggregating processing power. The mostobvious resource included in a grid is a processor, but grids alsoencompass sensors, data-storage systems, applications, andother resources. One o the rst commonly known grid initiativeswas the SETI@home project, which solicited several million volun-teers to download a screensaver that used idle processor capac-ity to analyze data in the search or extraterrestrial lie. In a morerecent example, the Telescience Project provides remote access toan extremely powerul electron microscope at the National Centeror Microscopy and Imaging Research in San Diego. Users o thegrid can remotely operate the microscope, allowing new levels o access to the instrument and its capabilities.
Who’s doing it?
Many grids are appearing in the sciences, in elds such as chem-istry, physics, and genetics, and cryptologists and mathematicianshave also begun working with grid computing. Grid technology hasthe potential to signicantly impact other areas o study with heavycomputational requirements, such as urban planning. Anotherimportant area or the technology is animation, which requiresmassive amounts o computational power and is a common tool ina growing number o disciplines. By making resources available tostudents, these communities are able to eectively model authenticdisciplinary practices.
How does it work?
Grids use a layer o middleware to communicate with and manip-ulate heterogeneous hardware and data sets. In some elds—astronomy, or example—hardware cannot reasonably be movedand is prohibitively expensive to replicate on other sites. In other