Western taking part in two major grid computing projects

CULLOWHEE – Students and professors in Western Carolina University’s computer science program will be involved in two collaborative research projects designed to increase access to a rapidly developing form of high performance computing known as “grid computing.”

Western is the only college or university in North Carolina selected as a partner in more than one of the four grant awards totaling $2.3 million announced today (Friday, May 14) by University of North Carolina President Molly Broad.

Western will team up with five other institutions led by the University of North Carolina at Wilmington on a $557,634 effort to bring the user-friendly “click and drag” system into the world of grid computing. Currently, the only way to access the vast resources available through grid computing is through a cumbersome process of commands and programming language, said Barry Wilkinson, associate professor of computer science at Western.

“If we want to make grid resources available to a wide variety of users, we must provide a relatively simple graphical user interface,” said Wilkinson, Western’s research collaborator on the project. “It’s a lot like the way Web browsers provide an easy way for people who aren’t computer programmers to access and utilize the Internet.”

When researchers develop the grid interface, they intend to share it with schools, business and industry statewide to help encourage entrepreneurial activity, create new innovations and spark economic development across North Carolina.

Also partnering in the two-year project are East Carolina, N.C. Central and N.C. State universities and Cape Fear Community College.

In another project funded by The University of North Carolina Board of Governors, Western will partner with Appalachian State University and six other institutions in a consortium to promote undergraduate education in high performance computing at comprehensive universities. The $650,000, two-year project will enable the development of seven new elective courses and a senior research seminar dealing with high performance computing and its applications, and establishment of an eight-node computer grid (one node per partner), with a minimum of eight computers per node.

“This project will increase the number of undergraduate students exposed to grid computing,” said Mark Holliday, associate professor of computer science and collaborator on the project along with Wilkinson. “The sooner our students understand grid computing, the sooner they will be able to use the grid to help solve complex scientific, medical and engineering problems.”

Partners in the consortium are UNC campuses at Greensboro and Pembroke; N.C. A&T, Elon and High Point universities; and Lenoir-Rhyne College.

Grid computing is widely viewed as the next step in the evolution of the Internet. It is a natural progression from cluster computing, where computers at a single location are linked together to form a high-performance computing platform. In grid computing, clusters of computers at sites spanning the globe are linked to provide computational power previously possible only through expensive supercomputers.

North Carolina ‘s Rural Internet Access Authority estimates that grid computing could lead to an additional $10 billion in economic output, 24,000 new jobs and $7.2 billion in higher wages in the state by 2010.

For more information about grid computing initiatives at Western Carolina University, contact the department of mathematics and computer science at (828) 227-7245.