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The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, has joined with Indiana University and a group of eight other national and international partners to explore new frontiers in scientific computing as part of the FutureGrid, a new $15 million project largely supported by a $10.1 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Developed under the leadership of Indiana University, FutureGrid is one of only two experimental systems in the NSF Track 2 program that funds the most powerful, next-generation scientific supercomputers in the nation.

FutureGrid is a high performance grid test bed that will allow scientists to work collaboratively to develop and test novel approaches to parallel, grid, and cloud computing. These types of computing have become essential to such lifesaving work as medical and life science modeling and drug discovery, as well as to disciplines ranging from physics and environmental science to economic modeling and forecasting.

“FutureGrid will serve as a proving ground for new distributed computing systems and will open up exciting new avenues for scientific, commercial, and governmental collaboration and research,” said Principal Investigator Geoffrey C. Fox, director of the Pervasive Technology Institute (PTI) Digital Science Center and a professor in the IU School of Informatics and Computing at Bloomington. “We envision the grids and clouds of the future not as a single system, but as many linked systems. For this reason we are engaging an incredible set of academic and industry partners throughout the U.S. and in Europe to participate in FutureGrid.”

Cloud technologies — such as Amazon Web Services and the open-source Eucalyptus system — are increasingly used to support online resources used by researchers and the public, and have the potential to make a significant impact on the 21st century economy. The U.S. federal government is also exploring the use of cloud technologies to better serve the public — including the proposed development of a federal computing cloud — and government officials are working with industry partners to establish standards for cloud computing.

“Our participation in FutureGrid will give us a remarkable opportunity to contribute to the evolution of the leading edge computing technology that scientists and engineers need to accelerate their research,” said Jack Dongarra, University Distinguished Professor and Director of UT Knoxville’s Innovative Computing Laboratory (ICL). “We are exceptionally pleased to be part of the outstanding team of collaborators that Prof. Fox has assembled; it brings together some of today’s most creative leaders in the field of high performance distributed computing.”

Other partners in the FutureGrid project include: Purdue University, San Diego Supercomputer Center at University of California San Diego, University of Chicago/Argonne National Labs, University of Florida, University of Southern California Information Sciences Institute, University of Texas at Austin/Texas Advanced Computing Center, University of Virginia, and the Center for Information Services and GWT-TUD from Technische Universitat Dresden.

The FutureGrid test bed will be composed of a high-speed network connected to distributed clusters of high performance computers and will be linked to the TeraGrid—the NSF’s national cyberinfrastructure of high performance computing resources for scientific research. FutureGrid enables systematic reproducible development, testing, and benchmarking of software systems and application codes, which will be the focus of Dr. Dongarra and his ICL team. It will go one important step further than other grids, however, using virtualization technology that will allow the test bed to support a wide range of operating systems.

FutureGrid allows researchers to experiment at all levels, including customizing network protocols and experimenting with new middleware. By using virtual machines running on real hardware, Future Grid will allow scientists to have full control over their testing environments without interfering with other users. Each virtual environment will consists of exactly the software that the scientists needs for an experiment and no more, reducing the amount of complexity found in current systems and allowing computer scientists to do controlled and reproducible experiments. This approach will create a safer, more secure and efficient means to explore emerging approaches to computing and data analysis.

Scientists will have the ability to pursue research interactively and to collaborate internationally, creating unprecedented potential for scientific discovery and innovation as they explore new uses for cloud technologies in science and engineering. FutureGrid will also be available to students at numerous universities in order to encourage collaboration and familiarize the next generation of knowledge workers with these technologies.

About Innovative Computing Laboratory

The Innovative Computing Laboratory (ICL) is a global leader in research and development of enabling technologies and software infrastructure for scientific computing. ICL researchers provide high performance tools for tackling some of today’s most challenging science and engineering problems, and they play a major role in the development of standards for scientific computing generally. As part of the electrical engineering and computer science department at UT Knoxville, ICL is the flagship laboratory of the Center for Information Technology Research (CITR), one of UT Knoxville’s leading centers of excellence.