Utah schools looking to share data

Phil Smith wants to test methods of capturing harmful carbon dioxide gases, but he says without a new data link between Utah colleges he can’t run the simulations needed to test his ideas.

The program, called the Utah GRID system, would allow researchers at the U and Utah State University to digitally share information and computer software. The project has been in the works for the last two years and would require funding from the Utah State Legislature.

“We need the Utah GRID system to run simulations,” said Smith, a U professor in chemical engineering. “To run even a fire simulation we need 2000 processors — no university has that capability.”

Smith has permission to use National Laboratories to run his simulations, but not every researcher has that option.

Julio Facelli, who is organizing the Utah GRID system, said the program allows Utah researchers to make significant advancements in science.

“We’ve been working with Thomas Houser at Utah State University trying to promote the idea of building a Utah GRID and catch up to what other states are doing,” said Facelli, a U professor in biomedical informatics. The GRID program works as a cyber infrastructure, a network capable of connecting the U with Utah State and bypassing other networks.

“By being able to connect directly to Utah State, researchers and those who need the system don’t have to compete with students in dorms and connection throughout campus for bandwidth,” said Jim Stewart, director of the Utah Education Network.

Facelli hopes the Legislature will approve funding for the Utah GRID system during its spring session, but is not sure whether Utah has the funding for it. The project is expected to cost about $1 million, he said.

Stewart believes that the GRID proposal has a very good chance of being approved by the Legislature.

The Legislature budgeted hundreds of millions of dollars for the Utah Science Technology and Research Initiative two years ago to promote research and technological development in Utah and, in turn, stimulate Utah’s economy.

Facelli believes that the GRID program goes hand-in-hand with USTAR by helping recently-hired faculty and older U researchers share information across networks.

“The GRID infrastructure is critical for research — the program tells applicants (who) USTAR is trying to hire that the University of Utah is a star school in collaborative research,” he said.

GRID is able to store hundreds of gigabytes of data for researchers to use and share across the network.

“Today, instead of sending one wavelength, you can send many wavelengths through a piece of glass with each wavelength connecting different networks,” Facelli said.

The U and Utah State want to share their collective strengths. Utah State is a very strong agricultural program — they have genomic information and plans that the U doesn’t, Facelli said.

Steve Corbato, an associate director for the Scientific Computing and Imaging Institute, believes the GRID system will allow U researchers to more easily collaborate with researchers at other schools.

“This is a strategic project — it allows for collaboration between researchers at both institutions and for the opportunistic shared use of computational resources,” Corbato said.

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