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S'pore: National Library goes grid

Existing servers have been hooked up in a new grid infrastructure powered by open-source software.

SINGAPORE--The National Library Board (NLB) is counting on grid computing to manage 30 million snapshots of patrons captured each year.

Last May, the NLB installed cameras in its "borrowing kiosks" to capture the faces of patrons as they check out their library materials.

Kuan Sung, senior manager of technology solutions and governance at the NLB, said the move was aimed at preventing arguments with library users who try to dispute their library loans.

Although the cameras have allowed employees at the NLB's 40 public libraries to resolve such tussles with patrons, it also means the library's IT systems are now laden with heaps of images.

To address privacy concerns that the board's 2 million members may have, the images are also encrypted and watermarked to ensure that they do not fall into the wrong hands. As such, large amounts of computing resources are needed.

To process and archive these images, Kuan said the board has begun building a grid computing infrastructure comprising of the NLB's existing 62 servers. These systems run on Linux, and are currently used to manage the library's RFID (radio frequency identification) infrastructure.

Grid computing describes a way to make disparate machines work together to efficiently tackle computing jobs. The main benefit of grids is that they allow multiple applications to share, otherwise separate or spare, resources through prioritization.

Kuan said work on the grid computing infrastructure started in March last year, and the systems are currently in the testing phase. He added that the grid will completed within the next six months. Two Singapore-based systems integrators, which he declined to identify, have been contracted for the project.

All servers have been installed with Globus Toolkit, a free open-source software used to manage grid infrastructures. Asked if proprietary software was considered, Kuan said: "Of course… there is [grid computing] software from both Sun Microsystems and Oracle, but I need to pay for them."

The NLB, an organization that is funded by tax payers, expects to reduce its IT cost by using its existing Linux-based servers to build the grid and process images, Kuan said. A complex, high-end server would cost the NLB more than US$100,000 to perform the same task, he said. In comparison, while more commodity servers will be needed to build a similar grid architecture, the total cost will still be less at US$20,000 to US$30,000.

Kuan declined to reveal how much the NLB has spent on its grid infrastructure so far, though he emphasized that the technology would allow the organization to "scale up", or quickly increase its computing resources should the need arises.

According to research company IDC, the global grid market will be worth about US$12 billion by 2007. Despite this, a recent survey of IT managers noted that less than one in 10 businesses is planning to adopt grid computing because of cost, complexity and security concerns.