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Thursday, 25 April, 2002, 08:17 GMT 09:17 UK
Computing power brought online
Professor Malcolm Atkinson
Professor Atkinson sees huge potential for the Grid
The British arm of an ambitious plan to harness the processing power of big computers has being officially opened.

The UK's National e-Science Centre at the University of Edinburgh was opened by Chancellor Gordon Brown.

The centre will co-ordinate national and international work to get computers connected to the net to work together on scientific problems.

"We have only begun to investigate how the Grid can help tackle some of the big challenges facing the scientific community," said Professor Malcolm Atkinson, director of the Centre.

Number crunching

The internet may have initially been built with researchers and scientists in mind, but before now few academics have used it for much more than keeping in touch with colleagues, searching out data and swapping information.

UK Chancellor Gordon Brown
Brown opening the centre
In the coming years, e-Science or Grid technologies will get super-computers connected to the net to harness their processing power to work on some of the most intractable scientific problems.

In the same way that the internet only really took off when the web and browsers appeared and hid the terrifying complexity of the underlying network, so the Grid aims to put a friendly face on the software needed to get supercomputers talking.

Ultimately, Grid technology will mean scientists can simply submit their data to be processed without knowing, or caring, where the number crunching is actually being done.

Changing science

Although only officially opened this week, the National e-Science Centre was established in summer 2001 with a grant of 5.5m.

The University of Edinburgh is home to the e-Science Institute which serves as the co-ordinating body for grid computing in the UK and encourages other institutions to participate, organises training courses and co-ordinates research.

There are eight regional centres that co-ordinate the UK's e-Science programme. They include the research councils' central laboratory at Daresbury, London's Imperial College and Queen's University in Belfast.

The advent of grid technologies could change the way that many institutions practise science.

All institutions currently maintain their own computing facilities but, until now, these have largely existed as islands of computation that rarely work together.

Power on tap

Grid technologies will mean that smaller institutions get access to more computer power than they could ever afford by themselves.

The larger research labs benefit, too, because they get access to a pool of raw computer processing power that even they would struggle to fund independently.

Currently, many academics spend some of their time recreating or reworking data that scientists at other universities and research centres have already gathered.

The grid aims to make it easier for researchers to find out the results of experiments conducted elsewhere and to help them analyse the existing data so they can do more meaningful science.

See also:

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Computing power on tap
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