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Grid computing, the Hungarian way

The self-righting shape, invented by Hungarian mathematicians
The Gömböc, the only shape that will end up in the same position (shown here), no matter how it is oriented when you release it. Image courtesy Domokos/Wikimedia.

Hungarians pride themselves on being creative, of being able to find a way out in any situation. And there are a lot of Hungarian inventions you use in your everday life without even being aware of it: the Rubik's Cube, the ballpoint pen, the match, holography and, more recently, the Gömböc (see right). So it's no surprise that when it came to grid computing, they tackled it in their own way as well.

"In Hungary the concept of the grid was always a bit behind the curve compared to other countries. An inverted process is present in the grid field," said Agnes Szeberenyi, Hungrid VO deputy.

There is only the national Virtual Organization (VO) in Hungary, which is a catch-all VO establishing and providing the core services for users who are not part of any other VOs.

Gömböc: 'the atom of shapes'

When you were a child, you likely played with a toy variously called the comeback kid, Weeble and/or roly-poly. It has a curved, weighted base, so that the toy bounces back to its original position when pushed. Children the world over have spent countless frustrated hours trying to knock the toy over, but it always bounces back.

A few years ago, mathematician Gábor Domokos from the Budapest Institute of Technology and Economics in Hungary and his colleague Péter Várkonyi decided to take on the challenge of the comeback kid as adults, but without the weight. Would it be possible using shape alone to create an object that rights itself?

They proved that it was possible for an object to have only one stable point and one unstable point. (An unstable point is one where the balance is easily lost - for example, it is possible in theory to carefully balance the comeback kid on its head. But the slightest disturbance would make it topple over, back to the upright position.)

Armed with this knowledge, they were able to discover and build the Gömböc (pronounced 'GOM-bock'). The Gömböc returns to its stable point, no matter its orientation when you release it. (See a video here.) Because of its uniqueness (the only known "mono-monostable object") the Gömböc has been called the 'atom of shapes'.

From asteroids to evolution

While "the Gömböc was created mostly by thinking and using paper and pencil," Domokos and his team are now using the grid to produce a catalogue of shapes. The shapes will be classified according to "the number, type and topology of equilibrium points," Domokos said.

"This system may help to better understand shape evolution in nature, including abrasion processes and evolutionary processes. We found a simple mechanical explanation for the shape of evolution of asteroid shapes and another model for the evolution of abrading profiles in rivers," Domokos said.

But it's not just rocks - evolution is in on the game, too. Part of the original research into the Gömböc involved Domokos and his team tipping turtles: placing them on their back and seeing if they could self-right like a Gömböc. They are now generalizing these principles: "We try to extract information about the habitat of long-extinct turtles from the geometry of their shells."

In most countries however, there are several existing VOs, and the National Grid Infrastructures [NGIs] are supposed to be coordinating them. "In Hungary it is the other way round; there are several users, one VO, which is the starting point of the Hungarian NGI," said Szabolcs Hernath, Hungrid VO manager.

"When the European grid has started in 2004, most all Hungarian users were from the field of high-energy physics," said Hernath. "In order to extend our user communities and to attract all prospective participants from non-high energy physics research groups as well, the KFKI RMKI [the Research Institute for Particle and Nuclear Physics] has founded the official Hungarian EGEE [Enabling Grids for E-sciencE] VO, Hungrid," he said. As well as KFKI RMKI, the other four particpating research institutes are the Budapest University of Technology (BME), Eotvos Lorand University (ELTE), the National Information Infrastructure Development Institute (NIIF), and MTA SZTAKI.

Hungrid VO is historically the first EGGE grid infrastructure in Hungary, open to members of any academic research or educational institute in Hungary. "We regularly organize trainings for students and researchers. Furthermore, this year we started the tradition of an annual grid conference (Café Grid) where success stories are presented by current grid users to newbies in grid computing," said Szeberenyi.

To maintain the Hungrid infrastructure, KFKI RMKI provides backbone grid services, dedicated computing power and disk capacities, and the Virtual Organization Management Service for user identification. KFKI RMKI, as the main coordinator, provides the highest number of CPUs (almost 125 multicore CPUs, 500 worker nodes) and storage capacity (254 TB) in the country. "Our VO currently joins the grid services of several domestic institutes, and provides 24/7 availability", said Szeberenyi.

Services like sequential and parallel (mpi) job submission, storage services, information systems and web interface (P-Grade portal) are also available.

The Hungrid researchers also want to provide "a testing and preparation environment for other prospective Hungarian VOs," said Hernath.

"We currently have over 80 registered users, from a broad range of scientific areas (high-energy physics, astrophysics, applied mathematics, architecture, biomedical engineering), who have used Hungrid to produce their scientific results" Szeberenyi said.

The numerous publications accomplished with the help of HunGrid's infrastructure prove the success of Hungarian approach to grid computing. "The first published result achieved with Hungrid was an air pollution forecast by SZTAKI LPDS [Laboratory of Parallel and Distributed Systems]," recalled Szeberenyi. The aim of that research was to simulate reaction-diffusion-advection systems, for example, in case of dispersion of radioactive nuclides.

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