11.4. Metacomputers, grid computing

The computing requirements that are needed for certain applications are so large that they require thousands of hours to be able to execute in cluster environments. Such applications have promoted the creation of virtual computers on networks, metacomputers or grid computers. This technology has made it possible to connect execution environments, high-speed networks, databases, instruments etc., distributed in different geographic locations. This makes it possible to achieve a processing power that would not be economically viable in any other way with excellent results. Examples of their application are experiments such as the I-WAY networking (which connects supercomputers from 17 different places) in North America, or DataGrid, CrossGrid in Europa or IrisGrid in Espaņa. These metacomputers or grid computers have a lot in common with parallel and distributed systems (SPD), but they are also different in certain important aspects. Although they are connected through networks, the networks can have different characteristics, the service cannot be guaranteed and they will be located in different domains. The programming model and interfaces must be radically different (in respect of the model of distributed systems) and adequate for high performance computing. As with SPD, the metacomputing applications require a communications plan to provide the required performance levels; but given their dynamic nature, new tools and techniques are needed. In other words, whilst metacomputing can be formed with the base of the SPDs, it is necessary to create new tools, mechanisms and techniques for these. [Fos]

11.4.1. Different computing architectures

If we only consider the calculative power aspect, we can see that there are various solutions depending on the size and characteristics of the problem. Firstly, we could think of a supercomputer (server) but these have problems such as the lack of scalability, costly equipment and maintenance, peak computing (a lot of time resources are not taken advantage of) and reliability problems. The economic alternative is a set of computers interconnected by a high performance network (Fast Ethernet – LAN – or Myrinet – SAN) which would form a cluster of stations dedicated to parallel/distributed computing (SPD) with a very high performance level (3 to 15 times cost/performance ratio). But these systems have inconveniences such as the high cost of communications, maintenance, programming model etc. However, it is an excellent solution for medium range or high time computing (HTC). Another interesting concept is intranet computing, which means using the equipment of a local network (for example, a C class network) to execute sequential or parallel jobs with assistance of an administration and load tool; In other words, it is a step down from a cluster and it permits the exploitation of the computational power in a large local network with the ensuing advantages, as we increase the effectiveness of the use of resources (low cost CPU cycles), improve the scalability and the administration is not too complex. For these types of solutions, there is software such as Sun Grid Engine by Sun Microsystems [Sun], Condor by the University of Wisconsin (both free) [Uni] or LSF by Platform Computing (commercial) [Pla].

The option of intranet computing presents some inconveniences such as the impossibility of managing resources outside the domain of administration. Some of the abovementioned tools (Condor, LSF or SGE) permit cooperation between different sub-nodes of the system, but all of them must have the same administrative structure, the same security policies and the same philosophy of resource management. Although this is a step forward in terms of computational power at low-cost, they only manage the CPU and not the data shared between the sub-nodes. Besides, the protocols and interfaces are proprietary and they are not based on an open standard, it is not possible to amortise the resources when they are not fully in use and neither can we share resources with other organisations. [Beo, Ext, Die]

The growth of computers between 1986 and 2000 has multiplied by 500 and the networks by 340,000, but forecasts would indicate that, between 2001 and 2010, computers will only multiply by 60 and networks by 4,000. This indicates the standard of the next architecture for HPC: computing distributed by Internet or grid computing (GC) or metacomputing.

Grid computing is a new emerging technology, the objective of which is to share resources by Internet in a uniform, transparent, secure, efficient and reliable manner. This technology is complementary to the preceding technologies, in that it permits the interconnection of resources in different administration domains whilst respecting their internal security policies and their resource management software on the intranet. According to one of its precursors, Ian Foster, in his article "What is the Grid? A Three Point Checklist" (2002), a grid is a system that:

1) coordinates resources that are not subject to centralised control,

2) using standard, open, general-purpose protocols and interfaces,

3) to deliver non-trivial qualities of service.

Among the advantages that this new technology provides, we might mention the lease of resources, the amortisation of own resources, a great amount of power without having to invest in resources and installations, collaboration/sharing between institutions and virtual organisations etc.

The following figure provides a view of all these concepts. [Llo]

11.4.2. Globus

The Globus Project[Gloa, Glob] is one of the most emblematic in this sense, as it is the precursor in the development of a toolkit for metacomputing or grid computing and it provides considerable advances in the areas of communication, information, location and planning of resources, authentication and access to data. In other words, Globus makes it possible to share resources located in different administration domains, with different security and resource management policies and it is formed by a middleware software package that includes a set of libraries, services and API.

The globus tool (Globus toolkit) is formed by a set of modules with well-defined interfaces for interacting with other modules and/or services. The functions of these modules are as follows:

The internal structure of Globus can be seen in the following figure (http://www.globus.org/toolkit/about.html).

11.4.3. Software, installation and administration of Globus

The 'The Globus Alliance' website is http://www.globus.org [Gloa]. Here we can find source code and all the documents that we might need to transform our intranet into a part of a grid. Being part of a grid means agreeing to and implementing the policies of all the institutions and companies that are part of that grid. There are various different initiatives based on Globus in Spain. One of these is IrisGrid [Llo], which we can join if we wish to take advantage of the benefits of this technology. For more information, see: http://www.rediris.es/irisgrid/.

The first step for setting up Globus is to obtain the software (currently Globus Toolkit 4) called GT4. This software implements the services with a combination of C and Java (the C components can only be executed in UNIX GNU/Linux platforms, generally), which is why the software is divided into the services that it offers. Certain packages, or others, should be installed, depending on the system that we wish to set up.

A quick installation guide, with the download, system requirements and certificates can be found at http://www.globus.org/toolkit/docs/4.0/admin/docbook/quickstart.html. To summarise, the following steps must be taken:

  1. Pre-requisites: verify the software and versions (zlib, j2se, disable gcj, apache, C/C++, tar, make, sed, perl, sudo, postgres, iodbc)

  2. Create user, download and compile GT4

  3. Start up system security (certificates)

  4. Start up GridFTP

  5. Start up the Webservices Container

  6. Configure RFT (Reliable File Transfer)

  7. Start up WS GRAM (job management)

  8. Start up the second machine

  9. Start up the Index Service hierarchy

  10. Start up the cluster

  11. Establish Cross-CA Trust

As you will observe, installing and setting up GT4 is not an easy task, but it is justified if we wish to incorporate a cluster into a grid or if we wish to perform tests (we recommend an extra dose of enthusiasm and patience) to appreciate the real power of GT4. For detailed information on installing GT4, please see: