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This page was published on 11/02/2004
Published: 11/02/2004

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Published: 11 February 2004  
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Virtual taskforces hone in on real problems

Thanks to new distributed computing tools being developed in the EU's ‘Crossgrid project', researchers in different locations across Europe will be able to respond much faster to both theoretical and real problems, such as preventing floods.

Can vast computing power help predict the weather, or solve problems in biomedicine? © Source: PhotoDisc
Can vast computing power help predict the weather, or solve problems in biomedicine?

© Source: PhotoDisc

Chief among the new tools being developed by the IST Crossgrid project is the ‘migration desktop', which makes running applications over the distributed computing environment of the Grid much easier. The advantage of this kind of research networking technology is it combines the benefits of speed and heavy-duty computing capacity. It can connect experts, data and the processing resources needed for accurate and fast decision-making.

Led by the Polish supercomputing institute Cyfronet, 21 partners in 11 countries across Europe are working to extend the Grid environment to new areas where practical responses can, for example, mitigate potential disasters. Flood prevention is typical of these new distributed computing areas suitable for Crossgrid's new application.

“The migration desktop is a kind of user-friendly interface for whatever application you want to use,” explains the project's coordinator, Michal Turala of Cyfronet. The desktop has shown its value in managing a new breed of large-scale distributed computing problems in such fields as biomedics, earth observation and pollution forecasting, physics simulation, as well as in disaster prediction.

A flood of data
The flood prevention application's main feature is a highly automated warning system based on a huge volume of data, including figures on rainfall and snowmelt runoff, satellite data, and information about topographical variations. Predicting a likely torrent requires vast processing resources to carry out tests, such as meteorological simulations and hydraulic water flow models.

Following approval by the European Commission's Information Society Technologies (IST) programme in 2001, the project kicked off in March 2002. The project's work took on a new urgency in August that year, as news of devastating floods across central Europe came to light. Tens of thousands had to be evacuated from their homes in six countries, costing billions of euros to clean up and repair the damage.

The working prototype of the migration desktop is undergoing further refinements by the consortium before the project ends in February 2005. But it has already demonstrated its value in assembling a “virtual workgroup” or taskforce of researchers across Europe on the acute problem of flooding. “It helps us integrate all the different data in the flood prevention system, and runs it on the Grid,” says Turala.

Headlines last week (‘An unmitigated disaster', 21 January) outlined the efforts at the EU level - and around the world - to understand and prevent natural disasters, such as severe flooding and earthquakes. This followed a press briefing, held in Dresden (DE) last October, on how European research is helping with better flood predictions and management. In addition, a major international conference next month in the Indian capital New Delhi - the ‘World Congress on Natural Disasters' - will tackle this subject in detail.

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IST Crossgrid project
IST Programme (research networking)
Headlines 21 January

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