Science Grid This Week
February 8, 2006 Current Issue | About SGTW | Subscribe | Archive | Contact SGTW  
MGRID's Evolution

The University of Michigan's campus grid and cyberinfrastructure project, MGRID, was founded in 2002 by a collaboration of researchers from bioinformatics, physics and high-performance computing. Over the next three years, the project set up a campus grid and cycle-sharing service and convened a group of programmers to solve core grid infrastructure problems. Since the formal end of the project in 2005, MGRID has served as a jumping-off point for university-wide collaborations in advanced networking and communications.

"MGRID was founded to research what it would take to pull a campus cyberinfrastructure together," said Tom Finholt, MGRID's director. "MGRID is now branching out into other forms. We're exploring the best ways to use advanced network technology and our 10-gigabit optical links to Chicago, such as high-definition videoconferencing."

MGRID's programmers researched several key areas of grid infrastructure, including portal development, scheduling, authorization and accounting and file systems. "We've been working on infrastructure that lets the normal person use grid computing," said Andy Adamson, associate director of UM's Center for Information Technology Integration. "We developed a portal that runs grid clients on behalf of the user, ways of taking credentials to the nodes where your jobs run, so that node can go out and get your input and output files."

"We also look at how to protect files so that people can bring more valuable resources to the grid," explained CITI Scientific Director Peter Honeyman. "More secure access opens up grid computing to more researchers." Adamson and Honeyman carry out ongoing research into the NFS file system, including adding capabilities that enable NFS to act as a file system for the grid.

MGRID also created a cycle-sharing service at the university, linking 300 public workstations into the grid. Idle workstations became available to researchers across the UM campus who used them for tasks such as searching genome and protein databases or simulating today's economy.

The collaboration's new focus on advanced networking was boosted by the recent activation of two additional wavelengths—10-gigabit optical network fibers—that will be dedicated to research. A link between UM and the National Center for Supercomputing Applications will be operational by April, allowing UM's bioinformatics center to access NCSA's high-performance resources through a community allocation. Technology developed for the campus grid, such as the MGRID portal, may even be extended to act as a scheduler for the new network capacity.

"MGRID's legacy has been to convene a group on campus focused on exploring high-performance networks and utilizing computational and visualization resources that might be located across campus or across the country," sais Finholt. "The real payoff of MGRID may be slightly different than what was originally envisioned, but it will be significant for UM."

—Katie Yurkewicz