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jueves, 24 de febrero de 2011

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Grid Pioneer Ian Foster Discusses the Future of Science in the Cloud

In this interview, Rich Wellner checks in with computer science pioneer, Ian Foster. Often called “the father of the grid” Foster serves as Director of the Computation Institute, a joint institute of the University of Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory, a professor of Computer Science at the University of Chicago and also a key member of the Open Grid Forum and the Globus Alliance, the community guiding Globus toolkit development.

Wellner and Foster discuss the next logical steps beyond grid now that resources once available only for “big science” projects are available to a far larger user base. Foster also details new developments among the Globus team’s efforts, particularly with projects like Globus Online, and describes how it is being used to open further avenues for scientists and researchers.

RW: What’s new with you, Ian?

IF: I’m still at Argonne’s and University of Chicago’s Computation Institute, and my research continues to focus on accelerating discovery in a networked world. So you might say not much! But in fact a lot is new. Indeed, I believe we face unprecedented opportunities for transformational change in how research is done in the coming years. I’m working hard to seize these opportunities.

RW: “Transformational” sounds intriguing! Tell me more.

IF: The driving forces are the new capabilities with which we’re all familiar: massive data, exponentially faster computers, and deep interdisciplinary collaboration. The opportunity—and challenge—is to make these capabilities accessible not just to a few “big science” projects but to every researcher everywhere. It’s amazing but true that an entrepreneur today can run a business from a coffee shop, outsourcing many of the complexities of operating that business to third parties. My dream is that one day soon, we’ll see researchers running ambitious research programs from that same coffee shop.

RW: So this is a step beyond grid and into something with important differences.

IF: I would say it is the next logical step beyond grid. It’s been over a decade since Carl Kesselman and I posited a world in which computing is delivered on demand as a service, and virtual organizations link scientists and resources worldwide. These ideas are now a reality. For example, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) Computing Grid distributes hundreds of terabytes to hundreds of analysis sites worldwide for the High Energy Physics community. The Earth System Grid serves global climate change data to 25,000 users. Commercial cloud providers deliver on-demand cycles and storage at scales unachievable in academic settings. The US InCommon trust federation enables more than five million people to use local credentials to access remote resources. It’s been astonishing to see these developments occur so quickly, and at this scale.

However, while big science projects can afford to create and operate dedicated grid infrastructures, smaller teams can’t. Their IT staff is maybe a grad student or a technician. Yet to be competitive, they somehow need to collect, manage, analyze, etc., tens of terabytes of data—just like the big guys.

The answer is not to give them more software because they don’t have the time and expertise to install and operate it. We need to take the IT required for research and deliver that IT in a convenient and cost-effective manner, just as Google delivers email and delivers customer relationship management. In many cases, commercial clouds may offer a cost-effective source of computing and storage. But we still need to provide what we might call the “business logic” or “workflow” of science.

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