UK scientists complete Grid foundations

New specifications will make it possible for scientists to share the ever-growing mountains of data generated by research projects

British scientists on Monday announced the completion of one of the building blocks for large-scale data sharing over the Grid -- a proposed network of computers seen as the 21st century's successor to the Internet.

The project was carried out by scientists from the UK's E-Science Centres and was co-funded by IBM and Oracle, rival powers in the database market, which contributed both funding and the efforts of their own researchers. The specifications announced on Monday pave the way for researchers to collaborate using quantities of data that are massive, and growing exponentially each year, according to scientists.

The Grid is a nebulous project being carried out by companies and scientists around the world, aimed at addressing the shortcomings of today's Internet. Ultimately, Grid technologies will allow scientists to share not only large amounts of data, but also computing power itself. Private-sector companies are interested in the technology because it is expected to ultimately filter down to business and end-user applications, just as today's Internet technologies have done.

On Monday scientists unveiled the building blocks of the Data Access and Integration (DAI) programme, which builds on the Open Grid Services Architecture. The DAI is a set of specifications that pave the way for prototype Grid systems.

The specifications deal with the dilemma of how scientists should share vast databases of research results, such as those expected to emerge from the Large Hadron Collider project at CERN, the European nuclear research laboratory.

"When the data collected in a single year is now equivalent to the sum total of data collected beforehand, the scale of the challenge to share and harvest all that data becomes clear," said professor Tony Hey, director of the E-Science Core Programme, in a statement. "The pioneering work of the UK team paves the way for this to happen and we expect to see a series of prototypes based on this research released in the coming weeks and months."

The results were announced at the fifth Global Grid Forum, taking place this week in Edinburgh, hosted by the National E-Science Centre.

Grid research is considered crucial to keeping UK science at the cutting edge of the computing world. The National E-Science Centre, officially opened in April, coordinates projects with a network of eight regional centres in Belfast, Cambridge, Cardiff, London, Manchester, Newcastle, Oxford and Southampton, and the Central Laboratories of the Research Council sites at Daresbury and Rutherford Appleton.

The national centre has government funding to the tune of £3m to carry out its research and development projects, with an additional £3m from private industry.

As part of its mandate, the centre is setting up a national Grid connecting the regional centres.

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