IT Management

Linux on the zSeries is leading the revival of virtual machine technology, originally developed by IBM in the 1960s, and is supporting breakthrough research in Grid computing for the scientific community.

This article explores how researchers at the University of Florida, Gainesville, and Northwestern University, Chicago, are employing Linux, IBM’s zSeries, and virtual machine technology to create powerful Grid computing systems. At the core of this Grid computing system at the University of Florida is the IBM z800. In addition, both universities are using Intel Pentium-based PCs.

Professors José Fortes and Renato Figueiredo of the University of Florida, and Professor Peter Dinda of Northwestern University, are leading Grid computing research at the Advanced Computing and Information Systems (ACIS) Laboratory (www.acis.ufl.edu/) at the University of Florida. Fortés, who is the university’s BellSouth Eminent Scholar, a chaired position endowed by the telecommunications company, and Figueiredo have been doing groundbreaking work on Grid computing for the past seven years, beginning with a project at Purdue University in 1995.

Fortes explained that their original work began when users who were doing research in computer device simulation requested that they be able to test from remote locations.

“We ended up with the ability to share computer resources among many different users who are distributed geographically with resources being in different labs at different locations,” Fortes said.

As Figueiredo explained, “It is research that started in 1995 when Dr. Fortes and I were at Purdue University. At Purdue, we developed this system called PUNCH, which stands for Purdue University Network Computing Hubs. It’s basically a network computing system that lets people run applications through a conventional Web browser interface. It was a portal to our grid resources for running applications.”

Having moved to Florida, where they were offered an opportunity to oversee Grid computing at the ACIS Lab, Fortes and Figueiredo are working to build on their pioneering research at Purdue with a new emphasis on virtual machine technology.

Fortes explained that although the research at Purdue and now at Florida primarily serves the needs of scientific research, Grid computing also plays a role in business applications. For example, a financial institution based in New York might choose to set up an Internet-based grid so that their branch offices in Europe could use the company’s computer resources in New York. This would save the company the expense of purchasing and maintaining hardware and software on both continents.

According to IBM documentation on the z800’s inclusion in the project, the University of Florida’s approach to Grid computing is unique in that it relies extensively on the use of virtualization technology at the machine, network, data, and application levels to dynamically create virtual information grids per user and/or per application. The intended users of this Grid computing approach include worldwide communities of scientists and engineers in nanotechnology and computer science. The university describes the middleware developed by the ACIS Lab as “In-VIGO,” meaning that it enables scientific simulations and design to take place In Virtual Information Grid Organizations.

Employing the IBM eServer z800 running z/VM, IBM’s latest virtualization software, the University of Florida project will use the IBM Enterprise StorageServer to house the terabyte-level data files involved in cutting-edge scientific research.

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