New Software, Tools Ease Internet Collaboration and Grid Computing

May 7, 2002

A new package of software and other tools will make it easier for U.S. scientists, engineers and educators to collaborate across the Internet and use the Grid, a group of high-speed successor technologies and capabilities to the Internet that link high-performance networks and computers nationwide and around the world.

The package of “middleware,” or software and services that link two or more otherwise unconnected applications across the Internet, was developed under the auspices of the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Middleware Initiative (NMI). NSF launched the initiative in September 2001 by commiting $12 million over three years to create and deploy advanced network services that simplify access to diverse Internet information and services.

“To be useful, an infrastructure technology must be broadly deployed,” said NMI co-principal investigator Ian Foster, a University of Chicago computer science professor and fellow at the university’s Computation Institute. “This in turn means that the technology must be simple, extraordinarily valuable, or both. The challenge we face is to create Grid middleware that offers more functionality than the Internet on which it rests, while remaining simple to deploy.”

NMI Release 1.0 (NMI-R1) represents the first bundling of such Grid software as the Globus Toolkit, CondorG and the Network Weather Service, along with security tools and best practices for enterprise computing such as eduPerson and Shibboleth. By wrapping them in a single package, NMI project leaders intend to ease the use and deployment of such middleware, making distributed, collaborative environments such as Grid computing and desktop video-conferencing more accessible.

“The absence of common middleware solutions is a big problem for researchers, scientists and educators looking to collaborate using advanced network applications,” said Ken Klingenstein, NMI principal investigator and director of the Internet2 Middleware Initiative. “Applications either make do without middleware functions, in which case usability and efficiency suffer, or (they) perform middleware functions themselves, which leads to competing and incompatible standards. NMI will address these problems by working toward the deployment of interoperable core middleware services.”

This release allows resource discovery, data-management, scheduling of on-line resources, and security across multiple organizations, even when separated by geography or technology. Astronomers might use the package to access a distant telescope “on demand,” zooming in on fleeting solar flares as they occur rather than waiting for cumbersome, after-the-fact data analysis. Similarly, the package could help students in a public health course to work collaboratively on projects with colleagues in other countries, using video and written material stored in libraries around the world.

“NMI-R1 is essentially a recipe book for simplifying middleware and Grids,” said Alan Blatecky, NSF program director for NMI. “These technologies in turn will serve as the basis for scientific advances, research and education in many disciplines, while encouraging the development of a suite of new capabilities and applications across the Internet.”

NMI consists of two teams: The Grids Research Integration Deployment and Support (GRIDS) Center and the Enterprise and Desktop Integration Technologies (EDIT) Consortium. 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 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 (SURA).

The package is available at: