NSF PR 02-89 - November 1, 2002
New NSF "Middleware" Advances Collaborative Research
A new suite of software products that allows researchers
to manage massive physics datasets online, simulate
earthquakes via large "shake tables" over advanced
computational "grids," and enjoy more secure on-line
collaboration became freely available this week as
part of a national initiative to develop and test
software tools to make high-speed computer networks
practical scientific tools.
The National Science Foundation, through its National
Middleware Initiative (NMI), is supporting development
of the specially packaged and tested software. The
term "middleware" refers to software and services
that link two or more unconnected applications across
the Internet. NMI's second release became publicly
available this week at http://www.nsf-middleware.org.
NSF supports two NMI teams: The GRIDS Center (for "Grid
Research Integration Deployment and Support") and
the EDIT Consortium (for "Enterprise and Desktop Integration
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 San Diego Supercomputer
Center (SDSC) at 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
Two NSF-funded physics projects--the Grid Physics Network
(GriPhyN) and the International Virtual Data Grid
Laboratory (iVDGL)--have created a Virtual Data Toolkit
based on the GRIDS Center Software Suite, a part of
NMI. The tool kit helps to simulate complex particle
collisions and to identify clusters of far-off galaxies.
With the help of NMI products, scientists can use
a simple command to generate 150,000 simulated collisions
or finetune their cosmology calculations with the
latest software advances.
"Collectively, the software and tools contained in
NMI are a model for 21st Century collaboration," said
Alan Blatecky, NSF's program director for NMI. "It
is a good sign that large NSF projects like GriPhyN,
the Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation
(NEES) and the multi-site TeraGrid supercomputing
system are coming to rely on NMI for stable software
releases. The initiative fills a need the community
has indentified for persistent middleware infrastructure
to benefit research and enterprise computing."
Eight universities have been selected as NMI testbeds
for early deployment. They include the University
of Florida, the University of Virginia, the University
of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), the University of
Alabama in Huntsville, the University of Texas at
Austin, Florida State University, the University of
Michigan, and Georgia State University.
These institutions have been among the first to actually
use NMI software and services in practical situations,
providing valuable information to NMI developers about
how the tools mesh with campus infrastructure.
Some of these existing applications include:
- National Science Digital Library use of Internet2's
Shibboleth (included in the new NMI release) as
infrastructure for accessing customized or restricted
content and services while protecting privacy.
The tool for sharing resource across the World
Wide Web will also offer significant future capabilities
in digital-rights management and videoconferencing.
"After two months of using Shibboleth to manage
Web course material at North Carolina State University,
we saw an 80- to 85-percent drop in our help desk
calls," said John Hopkins, a physics instructor
at Pennsylvania State University. "That's an incredible
return, freeing up instructors and staff for other
- An important NMI goal is the integration of grid
research environments with the campus enterprise.
One example is KX.509, a tool that extends the
widely used Kerberos campus authentication mechanism
for use in grids. According to Jim Pepin, director
of the Center for High Performance Computing and
Communications (HPCC) at the University of Southern
California (USC), successful implementation of
KX.509 across USC's campus with NMI is a first
step toward a broader use of the tool for grid
computing at USC and in the wider academic community.
- The University of Alabama at Birmingham is developing
secure single sign-on and authorization services
for administrative, teaching and research computing
"Our users will benefit from NMI technology by
seamlessly moving between email, administrative,
courseware and research applications without having
to remember a dozen username/password combinations,"
Sheila Sanders, Interim Vice President for Information
Technology. "Today, we are using NMI components
for students to access our course management system
and to distribute software to our campus."
For more information, see http://www.grids-center.org