Feature - Thailand goes tera: scientists connect to the power of ThaiGrid
Scientists across the globe are cranking up their computing requirements: they want more processing power to tackle ever more challenging problems.
The wishes of Thai scientists recently came true when their first teraflop computing system went online as part of the Thai National Grid Project.
"Our demand for computational power and storage is increasing rapidly," says Putchong Uthayopas, director of the Thai National Grid Project.
"We had a need for a national computational infrastructure that would allow researchers to discover and explore more challenging problems," he says. "The Thai government decided that now was the right time to explore grids as a key infrastructure enabler."
80 systems across 15 sites
Comprising 14 leading research and education institutes in addition to the Thai National Grid Center, ThaiGrid integrates more than 80 dual processor server systems, scattered across Thailand.
Uthayopas says there are many challenges when it comes to building a national scale grid.
"First we must come up with the right standard middleware stack; then we need to teach people how to install, manage and fix any problems with these stacks," he said.
"Our approach has been to rapidly build a community of technical contacts from member institutes, then get them quickly trained up on grid technology. We have also learned that interaction with domain scientists is also very important."
The Tera cluster: at home and away
The Thai National Grid Center's most recent addition is one with teraflop capabilities: called "Tera," the machine serves as the main computing server and storage facility for the Thai National Grid.
The Tera cluster is currently in operation as part of ThaiGrid and is heavily utilized by scientists and engineers for advanced applications such as computational nanoscience, computational fluid dynamics, genomics research, weather prediction, disaster simulation, reservoir simulation, life sciences and genomic research as well as massive virtual screening for drug discovery from medicinal herbs.
One of the key factors in the success of ThaiGrid is the high level of international collaboration, says Uthayopas.
"We count on assistance from many of our international partners, such as the Grid Technology Research Center in Japan and the PRAGMA project," he says. "For example, the key deployment technology we are using is based on the NPACI ROCKS Cluster Distribution, developed at the San Diego Supercomputer Center."
"We're also working with the SDSC and PRAGMA on the development of an extension called ThaiGrid Roll, which will allow users to easily install a cluster that complies with ThaiGrid standards, right from the start. We are also sharing our monitoring tools, called SCMS, with PRAGMA members."
Scaling up international science
"People are very excited about this new computing power, made available to them through grid technology. Previously, they have to simplify or scale down the size and complexity of their work to make their problems run on a small-scale system. With the power made available by ThaiGrid, they can now solve much more challenging problems much faster," Uthayopas says.
"We are very busy helping scientists move their work onto the grid," he says. "It is terrific to finally make their wishes come true."
- Somsak Sriprayoonsakul, Thai National Grid Project
Thai National Grid, or ThaiGrid, is a national research initiative launched in 2006 and is the responsibility of the Thai National Grid Center, a national competency center under the Software Industry Promotion Agency of the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology.
Putchong Uthayopas, director of the Thai National Grid Project, is chairing a grid computing session at this week's APAN 2007.