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access-gridWith the rapid advancement of new communication technologies, today's scientists are able to communicate more frequently and easily with collaborators and colleagues throughout the world. Collaborations used to require travelling on sabbaticals and meeting at infrequent conferences. Today, researchers need a way to collaborate remotely beyond the constraints of email and FTP.

Since the late 1980's, the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) has been developing collaborative technologies to fulfill the needs of today's researchers. Starting with the Mosaic project, the NCSA now drives the development of the Grid Alliance. This Alliance harnesses the tools and expertise of almost 50 universities and institutions throughout the country. This collective infrastructure is now referred to as the Grid.

The Grid is a real-world attempt to connect resources and combine computing power over the Internet. This infrastructure includes ubiquitous computing, wireless networking, groupware, distributed supercomputing, unique authentication, and a host of other novel and cutting-edge technologies. Now that the Grid provides the technology to connect machines, they needed something to connect the most important resource, people.

The Access Grid technologies developed at Argonne National Labs are addressing this need. The purpose of the technology is to provide a standardized platform of primarily open source software and "off-the-shelf" components. What this means is that a research group can go to their favorite hardware vendors and build the baseline Access Grid tools (Also called an Access Grid Node.)

The SCI Institute has added a few extra features to its node such as replacing the traditional Matrox G400 and G200 video cards with new 3Dlabs Oxygen GVX1 cards. This gives us a fully OpenGL accelerated tiled desktop capable of running a resolution of 3000 by 800. These cards are capable of driving a display in stereo and provide digital video outputs for future projector technology. A 5.1 Dolby Digital sound system rounds out the extensions to the node.

Richard CoffeyRichard Coffey, staff researcher assigned to the project, stated, "This room not only allows us to collaborate with current researchers on the Access Grid by providing a visualization test-bed, it is also capable of exploring such avenues as remote visualization and multi-user computation steering. We also hope to explore 3D audio to better simulate a virtual meeting space."

The SCI Institute not only collaborates with researchers around the world on the Access Grid, we also collaborate across campus. The Center for High Performance Computing has an Access Grid Node installed in a large lecture hall. This provides a second venue capable of a greater capacity for large events. There are plans for a third Access Grid Node at the University Hospital on campus.

"We're very excited about the impact the Access Grid will have on our future collaborations throughout the world and around the campus," said Chris Johnson, Director of the SCI Institute. "By exploring these cutting edge technologies in communication, collaboration, and resource sharing, we maintain our position at the forefront of Scientific Computing and Visualization."