Grid computing at work against smallpox

The Office of the Secretary of Defense soon will be the recipient of information gleaned from the Smallpox Research Grid Project, a global research effort using a virtual supercomputer in the search for new drugs to combat the smallpox virus.

The project will be powered through a massive computing "grid." Grid computing enables researchers to pool computing resources such as processing, network bandwidth and storage capacity for large research projects.

This grid computing project has the goal of developing drugs to combat smallpox after infection.

A team of industry and academic partners, including IBM Corp., Accelrys Inc. and United Devices Inc., announced the project's launch in a news release today.

United Devices, a provider of secure grid solutions, is coordinating all aspects of the project. The company's Global MetaProcessor platform will aggregate the idle power of participating servers, PCs and workstations into its existing worldwide grid capable of running a wide range of scientific and high-performance computing applications.

IBM is providing the project's infrastructure, which includes IBM eServer p690 systems and Shark Enterprise Storage Server.

Accelrys, a software developer focused on life sciences, is providing the high-throughput docking and scoring software used to screen compounds.

The project uses computational chemistry to analyze interactions among a library of 35 million potential drug molecules and several protein targets on the smallpox virus, said Ed Hubbard, United Devices' chief executive officer.

Results from the Smallpox Research Grid Project will be delivered to OSD in about 30 days, based on similar projects, including one for anthrax that was done last year, Hubbard said.

It would take about seven years and cost about $10 million using large clusters of leased machines to complete the same project, but the public grid model for this program, which is funded through a public/private partnership, will be completed in about one month and at one-tenth the cost, he said.

The global team for the Smallpox Research Grid Project includes researchers at Oxford and Essex universities in the United Kingdom, and smallpox experts at the Robarts Research Institute at the University of Western Ontario, Canada, and the Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York. Individuals can participate in the project by downloading a screensaver at www.grid.org. The screensaver will donate a computer's idle processing power and link it into a worldwide grid that will act as a virtual supercomputer.

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