The Grid Could Make Internet Obsolete
The Internet could soon be a thing of the past. The scientists who are responsible for its development have now built a lightning-fast replacement network, capable of downloading at speeds never seen before.
The scientists who pioneered the internet have developed a new network dubbed the ‘grid’ which is capable of downloading at speeds almost 10,000 times faster than a typical broadband internet connection.
The latest spin-off from CERN, the particle physics center that created the web, will be able to transfer large amounts of data worldwide extremely fast, allowing a movie to be downloaded in just 5 seconds. The grid could also provide enough power to transmit holographic images, offer high-definition video telephony for the price of a local call.
David Britton, professor of physics at Glasgow University and a leading figure in the grid project, believes grid technologies could “revolutionize” society.
“With this kind of computing power, future generations will have the ability to collaborate and communicate in ways older people like me cannot even imagine,”
The grid was developed to deal with the large amounts of data that will be produced by CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC) – a new particle accelerator built to probe the origin of the universe.
During the development of the new particle accelerator, researchers realized that the LHC would generate 56 million CD’s – equivalent to a stack of CD’s 40 miles high – worth of data every year.
This meant that scientists at CERN – where Sir Tim Berners-Lee invented the web in 1989 – would no longer be able to use his creation to transfer the huge amounts of data.
This is because the Internet has evolved by linking together a network of cables and routing equipment which was originally designed for telephone calls and therefore lacks the capacity for high-speed data transmission.
The grid on the other hand has been built with dedicated fiber optics and modern routing centers which are all capable of high speed data transfer. There are already 55,000 servers installed worldwide, with numbers expecting to rise to 200,000 by 2010.
The grids lines run from CERN to 11 centers in the US, Canada, the Far East and Europe. From each of these centers further connections spread out using existing high-speed academic networks. The will be activated at the same time as the LHC to capture the data it generates.
Professor Tony Doyle, technical director of the grid project, said:
“We need so much processing power, there would even be an issue about getting enough electricity to run the computers if they were all at CERN. The only answer was a new network powerful enough to send the data instantly to research centers in other countries.”
Ian Bird, project leader for CERN’s high-speed computing project, said grid technology could make the internet so fast that people would stop using desktop computers to store information and entrust it all to the internet…
“It will lead to what’s known as cloud computing, where people keep all their information online and access it from anywhere,”
Computers on the grid can also transmit data at lightning speed. This will allow researchers facing heavy processing tasks to call on the assistance of thousands of other computers around the world. The aim is to eliminate the dreaded “frozen screen” experienced by internet users who ask their machine to handle too much information.
The real goal of the grid is, however, to work with the LHC in tracking down nature’s most elusive particle, the Higgs boson. Predicted in theory but never yet found, the Higgs is supposed to be what gives matter mass.
The LHC has been designed to hunt out this particle – but even at optimum performance it will generate only a few thousand of the particles a year. Analyzing the mountain of data will be such a large task that it will keep even the grid’s huge capacity busy for years to come.
Although the gird is unlikely to be available for domestic users, many telecoms providers are already trying to introduce its pioneering technology. An option that may be available in the home is called dynamic switching. This technology creates a dedicated channel for large downloads freeing up bandwidth for surfing the web’s pages.
Additionally, the grid is being made available to dozens of other academic researchers including astronomers and molecular biologists.
The technology has already been used to design new drugs against malaria. The grid analyzed 140m compounds to get results, a task that would have taken a standard internet-linked PC around 420 years.
“Projects like the grid will bring huge changes in business and society as well as science,” Doyle said.
“Holographic video conferencing is not that far away. Online gaming could evolve to include many thousands of people, and social networking could become the main way we communicate….
“The history of the internet shows you cannot predict its real impacts but we know they will be huge.”
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