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Europe launches 200,000 computer research grid

The European Commission has launched a project to provide researchers with access to a combined grid network of 200,000 desktop computers
Written by Jack Clark, Contributor

The European Commission has launched a project designed to give researchers access to a distributed computing network of 200,000 desktop computers.

The Commission launched the European Grid Infrastructure (EGI) project on Tuesday. The EGI, which has been ramping up since May 2010, uses individual computers' idle processor cycles to help in the calculations for massive, distributed projects.

"European researchers' access to greater computing power will help them to tackle major research challenges in areas such as climate change and healthcare," European digital agenda commissioner Neelie Kroes said in a statement. "The European Grid Infrastructure will help strengthen Europe's hand in research and give our scientists the support they need, while saving energy and cutting costs."

The 200,000 computers are located around the world, including in 30 European countries. The machines are hosted in more than 300 different facilities, predominantly based in university research centres. The EC will contribute €25m (£20.7m) over the next four years to the €73m project, with other funding coming from countries' own national grid initiatives (NGI). The UK's NGI, the National Grid Service, is providing resources for the project.

"By putting the computing power of this network at the disposal of European researchers we hope that this will facilitate their research," European digital agenda spokesperson Jonathan Todd told ZDNet UK on Tuesday.

The EGI is coordinated by Amsterdam-based organisation EGI.eu, which manages and operates the grid structure.

A precursor to EGI — the Enabling Grids for E-Science project (EGEE) — ran from 2004-2010 and offered around 40,000 individual compute processing units across 250 resource centres.

The technique of running distributed computation tasks across computers has been used by a number of both public and private initiatives. In 2009, Intel launched an application, advertised through Facebook, that allowed users to donate spare computing cycles to academic research. Other active distributed projects include LHC@home, which lets users process data from the Large Hadron Collider, and Boinc, which hosts a range of projects and also allows scientists to create projects themselves.

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