Sharing the storage and computational power of computing could be the way of the future, thanks to New Zealand’s own BeSTGRID.
The $2.5 million Tertiary Education Commission initiative has seen academic institutions coming together to create a huge shared network of computing resources for the Kiwi research community.
BeSTGRID, or Broadband Enabled Science and Technology GRID, was launched in October 2006 by Auckland University Associate Professor Paul Bonnington and Dr Chris Messom of Massey University. The project follows international trends towards large-scale computing, known as grid or “cloud” computing, a concept promoted by Kiwi ex-pat Ian Foster, director of the Computational Institute of the University of Chicago.
BeSTGRID involves users operating an ecosystem that has access to centralised storage and other facilities run by external third parties.
The belief is such shared computing avoids the need to unwrap and install shrink-wrapped software; and by using a grid, will allow computing on demand. This will reputedly also reduce costs, increase reliability and boost flexibility.
BeSTGRID director Nick Jones, of Auckland University, says Massey, Canterbury and Auckland universities have come together with three layers of services. There is 40TB of storage at each institution and placed in a grid, it allows BeSTGRID to offer storage as a service.
Using standard protocols and tools, users in the scientific community can then access the storage they need on demand.
“A grid model allows us to make larger investments at single sites and share these resources,” Jones says.
BeSTGRID Auckland has signed a deal with Silicon Graphics to supply a computing cluster while other clusters at Massey and Canterbury universities are also connected to the grid.
As one of a range of global grid networks, BeSTGRID can operate at up to 10GB/s, around 5,000 times the speed of standard broadband. Users can access collaboration tools such as advanced videoconferencing, blogs and wikis.
Researchers at Auckland University, for example, access this through their laptops. The collaboration tools are cross-platform, capable of handling Windows, Macs and Linux.
Current research projects using BeSTGRID cover analysing Austronesian languages, human immunology, social sciences, earthquake engineering simulation, and bio-informatics.
“In science we see a fundamental shift from theoretical and stimulation-based research through to data-based research. Rather than come up with a model and simulate a model, people are repeatedly analysing data from comprehensive surveys and large scale sensor networks,” Jones says.
“If you look at genome mapping, the data sets we now have are very large, some growing by multi-terabytes per day. The data sets used by scientists are growing exponentially. They can measure and analyse the real effects in the environment,” he says.
Funded by the Tertiary Education Commission and and as part of the government’s KAREN networks initiative, BeSTGRID is only available to research groups, not commercial users.
However, at the end of this month, BeSTGRID reaches the end of its 18-month life, successfully achieving its goal of creating a New Zealand-based grid computing network, based on the KAREN network.
“We have successfully established a core set of skills and resources at three member universities. It has also acted as a catalyst for a larger community which now includes Victoria University, Otago University and memberships from MoRST (the Ministry of Research, Science and Technology).
“We have set up access for the Otago cluster being brought into BeSTGRID. We are now working with the Ministry of Education and State Services to establish a shared identity management framework for research and education, based on the Australian Access Federation. We are working with the Australian grid computing community,” Jones concludes.