The European Particle Physics Laboratory (CERN) said on Monday it has launched the first phase of its ambitious computing network, designed to process the terabytes of data generated by an upcoming particle accelerator.
CERN is building a machine called the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) to test the "big bang" theory of how the universe began, but they must first construct a computer network that can handle the volumes of data the device will produce. That project, called the LHC computing Grid, or LCG, will ultimately allow scientists to tap into computing resources distributed across the world as though they were local. Large numbers of desktop PCs and modestly sized servers are linked across a network in a way that allows them to function as a single, virtual supercomputer.
LCG-1, launched on Monday, is the first prototype of this service, and includes computing resources from 12 countries and three continents. It will, CERN scientists anticipate, grow to include many more resources and services, ahead of the LHC's launch in 2007.
The initial phase of the project includes participation from institutions in Switzerland, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Russia, Spain, Taiwan, the UK and the US. CERN expects to add institutions in at least 16 more countries this year.
The dynamic computing techniques of grid computing are already filtering into the commercial world, where they are used to make computing power available to companies as it is needed.
"The Grid enables us to harness the power of scientific computing centres wherever they may be to provide the most powerful computing resource the world has to offer," said Les Robertson, LCG project manager at CERN, in a statement.
The computing network is designed to link thousands of scientists, who will use the accelerator to try to prove the existence of particles known as Higgs bosons by recreating the conditions thought to have existed shortly after the big bang occurred. Higgs refers to Peter Higgs, the physicist who first theorised the existence of such particles, while bosons refer to the class of particles named for another physicist, S.N. Bose. Scientists are hopeful that the collider will produce the conditions they need to create the particles, if they do exist.
CNET News.com's Ina Fried contributed to this report.