Oct. 4, 2001
Vol. 21 No. 2

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    Foster to lead University’s efforts in NSF Middleware Initiative

    By Steve Koppes
    News Office

    Ian Foster, Professor in Computer Science and the College, will lead the University’s efforts in a collaborative project with scientists across the country to create and deploy advanced network services for researchers.

    Ian Foster, Professor in Computer Science and the College, will work with a group of researchers from across the country on a $12 million project to develop middleware, software that allows scientists to share applications, scientific instruments and data, and collaborate with their colleagues across the Internet. Chicago’s share of the grant, $2.5 million, will be administered through the University’s Computation Institute.

    The National Science Foundation on Monday, Sept. 24 announced the program, which is called the NSF Middleware Initiative, or NMI. The program will create and deploy advanced network services that will make it easier for researchers to access a wide range of resources available through high-performance networks, or grids. For example, they will be able to share such scientific tools as telescopes or modeling software, access supercomputing systems and databases, and run simulations in real-time with colleagues across the country and around the world.

    “Much as the NSFnet network, established in 1985, laid the groundwork for the dramatic success of the Internet, we expect this NSF Middleware Initiative to spur adoption of the advanced services that will define the networks and distributed systems of tomorrow,” Foster said.

    The effort will build on the success of the Globus project, which undertook developing middleware tools for grid computing. The overall goal of NMI will be to integrate Globus and other middleware services into a well-tested, comprehensive, commercial-quality, middleware distribution package that operates on multiple platforms. These distributions will be disseminated to research labs and universities worldwide. Foster and Carl Kesselman of the University of Southern California’s Information Science Institute, lead the Globus project.

    Two groups will receive the NSF awards. The GRIDS (Grids Research Integration Deployment and Support) Center will include the University, the Information Science Institute, the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the University of California at San Diego and the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

    A second team formed by Internet2 will include EDUCAUSE and SURA, the Southeastern Universities Research Association. Internet2 is a group of universities that works in partnership with industry and government to develop and deploy advanced network applications and technologies to accelerate the creation of tomorrow’s Internet. EDUCAUSE, a not-for-profit association, aims to advance higher education by promoting the intelligent use of information technology. SURA is a consortium of universities in the South that cooperates with government and other organizations in acquiring, developing, and using laboratories, machines, and other research facilities and in furthering knowledge in science and engineering.

    “We believe that middleware and a comprehensive middleware infrastructure will be the key to creating a network infrastructure that can be used by the worldwide research community to share ideas, conduct research and make new discoveries,” said ISI’s Kesselman. “There is a world of resources and information out there, and we intend to bring it to the scientific community in a seamless manner, so they can focus specifically on their research.”

    Foster and Kesselman, along with Randy Butler of the National Center for Supercomputing Applications, will lead the GRIDS Center. Foster and Kesselman will oversee the NMI architecture and development activities, and Butler will direct the NMI software packaging and distribution activities.

    “We’re seeing new collaborative computing projects starting every week now in all sorts of areas, from earthquake engineering to biology,” Foster said. “We aim to create the ubiquitous infrastructure that will enable these projects to succeed.”

    The Internet2 group will focus on making campus networks and desktop machines compatible with the middleware package. Internet2 also will provide a middleware test bed and user-authentication services for the academic community.

    More information on the NMI is available at www.nsf-middleware.org/.