Purdue partnership for putting idle computers to work on research wins international award

November 5, 2009

Purdue is being recognized as a worldwide campus technology innovator for its DiaGrid system, harnessing what would be otherwise wasted computing power for major research projects.

Campus Technology Magazine has selected DiaGrid for one of its 2009 Campus Technology Innovators Awards. The annual awards, highlighted in the magazine’s current issue, recognize higher education institutions for groundbreaking initiatives in educational technology that are models for other schools. Campus Technology is a leading monthly publication produced by 1105 Media Education Group to deliver news and real-world examples covering the use of technology to advance the way colleges and universities operate and educate today.

Purdue’s partners in DiaGrid include Purdue's Calumet and North Central campuses, Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, Indiana University, Indiana State University and the universities of Notre Dame, Louisville and Wisconsin.

Purdue was one of 11 award winners selected out of 349 nominations from higher education institutions across the globe. The winners are highlighted in the magazine’s August edition and on CampusTechnology.com.

“We are delighted to present Purdue with a 2009 Campus Technology Innovators award,” said Geoffrey Fletcher, editorial director of Campus Technology. “DiaGrid provides millions of hours of computation that would otherwise be wasted, without the need for additional technology or facilities purchases. The sheer size and ingenuity of the initiative, as well as the diversity of computing resources represented in the grid, really set the project apart.”

At heart, DiaGrid is a working example from the hot field of network-centered “cloud” computing services.

“As cloud computing becomes the new standard, Purdue has positioned itself as an ongoing leader in this technology, especially for scientific research and educational purposes,” said Gerry McCartney, Purdue's vice president for information technology and chief information officer.

Operated by ITaP, Purdue's central information technology organization, DiaGrid started as an on-campus system. But the system now includes nearly 27,000 processors at Purdue and the partner campuses. Purdue has an ongoing effort to add partners, with a goal of incorporating 100,000 processors.

“We continue to explore new applications and are seeking additional institutions to join the project,” said John Campbell, associate vice president in charge of research computing for ITaP. “DiaGrid allows institutions to maximize their technology investments while supporting the diverse needs of faculty.”

Researchers at Purdue and elsewhere use DiaGrid for purposes such as imaging the structure of viruses at near-atomic resolutions — the better to develop new ways of battling viral illnesses ranging from swine flu and the common cold to West Nile virus and AIDS.

The distributed computing pool also has been used to, among other things: understand the Solar System’s formation; project the reliability of Indiana’s electrical supply; and model the spread of water pollutants to develop best practices for ensuring water quality and availability.

DiaGrid works by pooling computers over the Purdue campus network and off campus via the Internet and fast research networks. Whenever computers in the pool are idle — at night, when their owners are at lunch and otherwise — the system sends work to them. When computer owners need their computers, jobs in progress automatically get shifted to other machines. The variety of hardware in DiaGrid includes computers in student computer labs, offices, server rooms and supercomputing clusters. It also is the first multi-campus collaboration of its kind.

Photo caption: Purdue’s DiaGrid team (L-R) Andy Howard, Phil Cheeseman, John Campbell, David Braun, Preston Smith and Carol Song. The team is posing with images from the scientific research enabled by DiaGrid, projected in a multi-walled virtual environment at ITaP’s visualization facility.

Writer: Greg Kline, science and technology writer, ITaP, (765) 494-8167, gkline@purdue.edu

Sources: Gerry McCartney, (765) 496-2270, mccart@purdue.edu John Campbell, (765) 494-1289, john-campbell@purdue.edu

Originally posted: November 5, 2009