WestGrid set in motion

The provinces of Alberta and British Columbia received $44 million to build the Western Canada Research Grid (WestGrid) earlier this week.

The Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI), along with the Alberta Science and Research Investment Program and the British Columbia Ministry of Advanced Education all contributed to the WestGrid project, a grid computing initiative that will provide high-performance computing, networking and collaboration tools to eight institutions in western Canada. Distributed or grid computing will allow researchers from across the provinces of Calgary and British Columbia to share and send data across an interconnected network of computer and server farms.

The selected organizations that will connect to WestGrid include the University of British Columbia (UBC), Simon Fraser University, TRIUMF (Canada’s National Laboratory for Particles and Nuclear Physics), New MCI, the University of Alberta, University of Calgary, University of Lethbridge and the Banff Centre.

The grid project is comprised of four fundamental components. In the area of high-performance computing, a shared memory computer will be housed at the University of Alberta for parallel computing along with a 5TB disk storage system. A cluster of multi-processors at the University of Calgary will be used mainly for message passing parallel computing and will include a 4TB disk storage system coupled with 4TB of online tape back-up. A Linux server farm will be stored at UBC and TRIUMF for computing assignments and a 19TB disk and 70TB tape storage facility. Simon Fraser will house 24TB of disk and 76TB of tape storage.

The grid will allow researchers to send and receive data in areas such as physics, medicine and science. In fact, it is the massive amount of computing power needed to facilitate the advancements in science and medicine that partly drove the need for the grid’s creation, according to the institutions involved.

IBM Canada Ltd., Hewlett-Packard Co. and Silicon Graphics Inc. (SGI) are the main vendors involved in supplying the hardware for WestGrid. IBM Canada will supply the UBC site with a cluster of Linux servers and the storage and online tape products at Simon Fraser University, explained Dave Williams, business development executive, e-server brand for the Markham, Ont.-based company. HP will provide 128 of its Alpha servers in a multi-processor environment at the University of Calgary and SGI will contribute its shared memory system at the University of Alberta. For its part, IBM seems genuinely intrigued by what the grid will offer when completed.

“It’s a project that is taking three diverse computing environments and adding a storage farm on top of that, creating a virtual system using grid technology…it allows those institutions the advantage of using this grid for all their professors and researcher associates,” Williams said.

For additional information on the project visit www.westgrid.ca.

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