NSF PR 02-38 - May 7, 2002
New Software, Tools Ease Internet Collaboration
and Grid Computing
A new package of software and other tools will make
it easier for U.S. scientists, engineers and educators
to collaborate across the Internet and use the Grid,
a group of high-speed successor technologies and capabilities
to the Internet that link high-performance networks
and computers nationwide and around the world.
The package of "middleware," or software and services
that link two or more otherwise unconnected applications
across the Internet, was developed under the auspices
of the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Middleware
Initiative (NMI). NSF launched the initiative in September
2001 by commiting $12 million over three years to
create and deploy advanced network services that simplify
access to diverse Internet information and services.
"To be useful, an infrastructure technology must be
broadly deployed," said NMI co-principal investigator
Ian Foster, a University of Chicago computer science
professor and fellow at the university's Computation
Institute. "This in turn means that the technology
must be simple, extraordinarily valuable, or both.
The challenge we face is to create Grid middleware
that offers more functionality than the Internet on
which it rests, while remaining simple to deploy."
NMI Release 1.0 (NMI-R1) represents the first bundling
of such Grid software as the Globus Toolkit, CondorG
and the Network Weather Service, along with security
tools and best practices for enterprise computing
such as eduPerson and Shibboleth. By wrapping them
in a single package, NMI project leaders intend to
ease the use and deployment of such middleware, making
distributed, collaborative environments such as Grid
computing and desktop video-conferencing more accessible.
"The absence of common middleware solutions is a big
problem for researchers, scientists and educators
looking to collaborate using advanced network applications,"
said Ken Klingenstein, NMI principal investigator
and director of the Internet2 Middleware Initiative.
"Applications either make do without middleware functions,
in which case usability and efficiency suffer, or
(they) perform middleware functions themselves, which
leads to competing and incompatible standards. NMI
will address these problems by working toward the
deployment of interoperable core middleware services."
This release allows resource discovery, data-management,
scheduling of on-line resources, and security across
multiple organizations, even when separated by geography
or technology. Astronomers might use the package to
access a distant telescope "on demand," zooming in
on fleeting solar flares as they occur rather than
waiting for cumbersome, after-the-fact data analysis.
Similarly, the package could help students in a public
health course to work collaboratively on projects
with colleagues in other countries, using video and
written material stored in libraries around the world.
"NMI-R1 is essentially a recipe book for simplifying
middleware and Grids," said Alan Blatecky, NSF program
director for NMI. "These technologies in turn will
serve as the basis for scientific advances, research
and education in many disciplines, while encouraging
the development of a suite of new capabilities and
applications across the Internet."
NMI consists of two teams: The Grids Research Integration
Deployment and Support (GRIDS) Center and the Enterprise
and Desktop Integration Technologies (EDIT) Consortium.
The GRIDS Center is a partnership of the University
of Southern California's Information Sciences Institute
(ISI), the National Center for Supercomputing Applications
(NCSA) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign,
the University of Chicago, the University of California-San
Diego and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The
EDIT Consortium is led by Internet2, EDUCAUSE, and
the Southeastern Universities Research Association
The package is available at: http://www.nsf-middleware.org/.