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National Science Foundation
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Image showing a sensor-laden buoy, Click for larger image.

Researchers in the United States and Taiwan are studying lake metabolism in a first-of-its-kind project using wireless field sensors on two sides of the Pacific Ocean. Ecologists and computer scientists have deployed sensor-laden buoys in several lakes at the Northern Temperate Lakes field station in northern Wisconsin and in Yuan-Yang Lake in Taiwan (shown here) to measure gross primary production, respiration and net ecosystem production. Wireless networking allows communication with the buoys from anywhere on the Internet, and grid middleware processes the raw sensor data to support cross-site studies and collaborations.

Credit: Lake Metabolism Project

NMI In the Middle

Image showing the Biomedical Informatics Research Network (BIRN). Click for larger image.
Credit: Biomedical Informatics Research Network
"Middleware" is the glue that holds cyberinfrastructure together by allowing two or more otherwise separate applications to access diverse resources across the network. These advanced network services allow scientists and researchers to collaborate with their colleagues and effectively share instruments, computing resources, laboratories and data.

NSF established the NSF Middleware Initiative (NMI) in 2001 to define, develop and support an integrated national middleware infrastructure. NMI activities are making it possible to share scientific resources ranging from telescopes, supercomputing systems and linear accelerators to databases, directories and calendars.

Integration and Standards. In 2001, NSF launched NMI with awards totaling almost $12 million. These awards formed the Grid Research Integration Deployment and Support (GRIDS) Center and the Enterprise and Desktop Integration Technologies (EDIT) Consortium. The GRIDS Center and EDIT Consortium have worked closely with the NSF Partnerships for Advanced Computational Infrastructure (PACI) and private industry to define, develop and deploy an integrated national middleware infrastructure.

Thus far, GRIDS Center and EDIT Consortium have issued four releases of production-quality, open-source and open-standards middleware tools. Available free to the public from the NMI Web site, the components fill functions needed by the research and education community in such areas as user authentication and authorization, resource identification and allocation, job management and scheduling.

Portals and Instruments. NMI awards in 2003 extended the initiative’s efforts in production-quality middleware to grid portals and integration of scientific instrumentation. The Open Grid Computing Environment (OGCE) team is focused on simplifying the development of "grid portals," Web-based user interfaces to applications that may access a broad array of resources and services on the grid. The Common Instrument Middleware Architecture (CIMA) team is developing standard grid middleware architecture for access and integration of scientific instruments.

Testbed and Experimental Capabilities. One important emphasis for NMI is to explore ways in which grid computing can be integrated with enterprise computing on university campuses. To that end, NSF has funded the NMI Integration Testbed, consisting of eight universities that coordinate closely to deploy and evaluate NMI middleware in production environments.

The testbed sites use and evaluate software, services and architectures that make it possible for faculty and campus projects to access distributed electronic resources. Testbed efforts gauge the middleware's practicality, emphasizing factors such as performance, ease of use and technical support.

Aspart of NMI, NSF has also made awards that focus on experimental applications of new middleware capabilities as well as near-term additions to the portfolio of middleware services of the NMI releases. These NMI awards include efforts to develop collaboration tools, scalable video services, essential software libraries for grid-based parallel computing, generalized grid-based application environments and tools for grid-based databases.

The goal for these awards is to develop middleware standards and services that will eventually be integrated into the production NMI releases. One of these awards, for example, led to the new H.350 standard for videoconferencing middleware recently adopted by the International Telecommunications Union.

Cyberinfrastructure A Special Report