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Description Discussions Comments Change Notes. This item has been added to your Favorites. File Size. Today he's the head of the LHC grid. When the Large Hadron Collider was approved in , Robertson — a pragmatist at a lab full of woolly-headed theorists — realized that no supercomputer in the world could handle the massive amount of data the new collider would produce.
And he knew he'd never get the funding for a supercomputing center anyway. The answer, Robertson figured, was to link together thousands of smaller computers. The centers wouldn't be linked into any kind of virtual supercomputer; they wouldn't have to be. Then, in the summer of , a little-known computer scientist named Carl Kesselman came to Geneva from California to give a seminar. Kesselman is one of the fathers of grid computing; Robertson had heard of the concept, but now he was seeing the light. To understand why, think of SETI home.
Individual PC users donate spare CPU cycles to analyze the apparently random radio signals constantly bombarding Earth from deep space. In return, they get to participate in a grand scientific quest to find evidence of life Out There. No luck yet, so we're told, but the concept has worked beautifully: It has proved that computing power even at the scale of the desktop can be mobilized remotely. In a similar way, the LHC grid will tap computing resources from around the globe. The first iteration, in , will involve some scientists from institutions in three dozen countries.
It's not exactly like SETI home; users will actually have access to all that computing power and be able to do their own individual analyses. However, computing centers and high-energy physics labs don't have "spare cycles. The nodes of the LHC grid — mostly universities and government-supported research labs — will agree to supply a share of their computing resources, in return for LHC collision data they need to help find the Higgs. Those agreements will vary between nodes, depending on which experiment a local physics group is collaborating on.
Eventually, according to Harvey Newman, a physicist at Caltech and chief architect of the US-based portion of the LHC grid, these agreements will morph into a genuine "grid economy," wherein computation, storage, and network resources will be traded around the grid like soybeans in a commodities market. The result: a super-reliable, superpowerful network that supplies on-demand computing capacity anytime, anywhere.
They're the Lewis and Clark of grid computing — in fact, they wrote the page book on it. Globus enables a grid to interpret a user request and then autonomously find the appropriate computing resources. Then it breaks the job into the right kinds of smaller tasks, allocates the spare computing power, and gets to work solving the problem. Robertson and his team at CERN have also integrated software developed for various grid projects around the world, but the Globus Toolkit still provides core protocols.
On the LHC grid, that software is supposed to solve a colossal signal-to-noise problem. It involves combing through mundane particle interactions for traces of "new physics" and comparing those traces to a simulation of what Higgs is supposed to look like. The CPU cycles could come from Birmingham or Berkeley or Beijing; a physicist working the problem won't know where the capacity comes from, and won't care.
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In the s, networking pioneers like J. Licklider and Leonard Kleinrock envisioned the spread of what Kleinrock called "computer utilities" — pervasive services that would provide remote computing to individuals. In the s, the spread of computer clusters and the business model known as Web services brought that vision closer to reality.
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But clusters are by definition centralized, independent nodes of computers managed by a single authority. It took high-speed networks and sophisticated software — much of it created by Foster and Kesselman — to make grid computing possible. The grid will change all that," says Foster. At least, that's the theory. To find out if it works, its architects are pumping more and more simulated data through the grid, waiting for the Atlas detector to come online. The components are so heavy that they rest on supports that float on cushions of pressurized air, as precarious as elephants on skateboards.
Later, I stood in the cathedral-sized cavern that will eventually house Atlas, feet beneath the Swiss countryside. Above Baldy's head, laborers in hard hats clambered over the metal scaffolding, finishing the chamber's interior. It was like a scene from Dr. No; at any moment I expected a nuclear-tipped missile to rise from the floor and the roof to slide open. As particles arc through Atlas' intricate viscera after a collision, they leave traces, electrical impulses that Atlas translates into streams of 1s and 0s.
Transmitted to physicists' desktops around the globe, those numerical streams may contain the evidence for the God particle. The problem here is volume, not complexity.
Grid of the Gods by Joseph P. Farrell, Scott D. de Hart | Waterstones
To model the chaotic effects of, say, earthquakes or the global climate, you need complicated algorithms and intelligent software; by contrast, the work of the LHC grid is essentially data mining in a huge mountain of numbers. As Robertson puts it, the output from the LHC is "perfectly parallel. Your review has been submitted successfully. Not registered?
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Blade Aiming at the Gods
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