Workshop on scientific and industrial Grid computing applications

Grid and e-Collaboration
4 February 2005

A two-day workshop at ESA's centre in Italy this week covered scientific and industrial Grid computing applications, highlighting current systems as well as the likely course of future Grid development.

Around 40 local scientific researchers and representatives from industry gathered for the 'Grid and e-Collaboration for the Space Community' workshop. The event took place on 2 and 3 February at the European Space Research Institute (ESRIN) in Frascati overlooking Rome. A day of discussion was followed by tutorials in Grid use.

Changing Mediterranean ocean colour
Grid computing shows changing Mediterranean chlorophyll levels

It was an appropriate locale because ESRIN is dedicated Earth Observation data archiving and distribution, an increasingly demanding task. For example, in just under three years of Envisat satellite operations, two Petabytes of derived data has now been archived, enough information to fill 20 million filing cabinets. The need to handle this much data and make it available to users has led ESRIN to take up Grid technology.

"We have begun an Earth Science Grid-On-Demand service based on our local Grid," explained organiser Luigi Fusco of ESRIN. "From this single site, users gain access to large volumes of Earth Observation data and can easily and quickly perform a variety of data reprocessing, including fine-tuning new algorithms to get optimal results."

Applications so far include satellite image mosaicking to monitor changing global chlorophyll concentrations on a monthly basis and tracking iceberg movement in polar regions.

What are Grids?

Dr Domenico Laforenza
Domenico Laforenza of CNR-ISTI

The basic principle behind Grid computing is simple enough: anything one computer can do, a pool of computers can do faster and better. These machines do not have to be in the same building, country or even continent – they simply have to be linked together.

"The term 'Grid' comes from the way electricity grids operates," explained Domenico Laforenza of Italy's National Research Centre Institute of Information Science and Technology (CNR-ISTI) in Pisa: "Nobody needs to know where the electricity comes from, or how it is transmitted, it is just there to be used. With Grids, the same is true of processing power."

Going beyond science

Just as the web initially developed for specialised scientific use but was enthusiastically taken up by wider society, emerging Grid and e-collaboration technology is likely to have a huge impact beyond science.

Grid workshop in ESRIN

Federico Rossi of the company Datamat said he predicted Grid use spreading beyond science to industry in the next few years, as initial 'hype and hope' was replaced by early adopters demonstrating the solutions and convenience that Grids offer within an operational context.

The aerospace and automotive sectors were both obvious candidates for use of Grid technology, but he said that additional applications could feasible within the fields of finance, health care, localised meteorology for tourism and sport and even the media and entertainment – Grid technology has the potential to make networks of local computer animators competitive with Hollywood.

With the distributed firm of Airbus already a European success story, a wide variety of businesses could potentially use e-collaboration to coordinate with component suppliers and subcontractors. Rossi added that one survey of the oil and gas sector showed 84% of companies think e-collaboration is important.
Visit ESA's 'Observing the Earth' website for the complete article 'Grid expectations for networked computing: from global Earth monitoring to black hole detection'.

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