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NCSA envisions tomorrow's e-businesses powered by Intel
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Rob Pennington
NT Supercluster Development Team Head, NCSA
NCSA helps its business partners cluster Intel®-based workstations to increase computing power for their e-Business solutions.

NCSA: Moving the Impossible to Reality

Company Profile
If you've seen corporate mission statements that seem ambitious, consider this one.

Prototype the 21st century's computational and informational infrastructure to help maintain the U.S. competitive edge in research, technology and the global economy.

That seemingly impossible job belongs to NCSA, the National Center for Supercomputing Applications, and it springs from a broader purpose: bring high performance computing capabilities to the national academic community.

NCSA, at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champagne, is the lead site of the largest unclassified computing system available to the national community in North America. It's here that, day after day, NCSA turns the seemingly impossible into reality.

"We provide the infrastructure, hardware, software and staff to put a supercomputing capability in a broad, open domain," says Rob Pennington, head of the NT supercluster development team at NCSA. "We fill the gap between desktop workstations and teraflop-scale supercomputing systems.

"We have six main focus areascosmology and astronomy, chemical engineering, nanomaterials research, environmental hydrology, involving weather systems and water flowsareas that use a ton of computing power. We also have a fairly strong industrial partners program."

Where most companies probe for e-Business opportunities, NCSA sees nothing but.

That partners program is fueled by a point of view typical of NCSA: Where most companies probe for opportunity, NCSA looks ahead and sees nothing but.

Opening the market
NCSA foresees huge advances in access to the Internet, the technological quality of content and its impact on individuals and businesses.

Larry Smarr, former director of NCSA, explains. "We deal with the exponential inherent in Moore's Law. An exponential has the property that before it gets to your threshold, it's impossible, science fiction. But when it crosses the threshold, it becomes routine. Take the Intel® processor in your laptop. It has more RAM and is faster than the Cray XPM* we had here as a supercomputer in 1985."

That was unimaginable just a few years ago. But in Smarr's words, "when the government allows us to spend far more on a computer or bandwidth as would be commercially available on a laptop with a modem, we can see what the broad marketplace will be able to do in new applications and services, perhaps as much as ten years out. Our backbone here is about 2.4 gigabytes per second, whereas most Americans are still at 56K."

Now that's changing fast. "Broadband will continue its sweep into the homes and businesses of America," Smarr says. "Several million now have cable modems and DSL. That will move to tens of millions in the next few years, bringing the world we have here, where we live at tens to millions of bits per second, into the broad mass market. This will create immense opportunity."

An obvious benefactor: e-Business.

Emerging e-Business capabilities, propelled by exponentially increasing processing power, will put companies on track to improve agility, foster innovation and realize compelling competitive advantages. Companies that successfully use the Internet to automate both ends of their businesscustomer interactions and supplier interactionscan expect to thrive.

And the power behind these new capabilities? Smarr sums up his prediction in a word: Intel.

Becoming Customer-Centric
"In the past," Smarr says, "computing has been about individual machines. Then, with parallel computing, we tied 128 dual Intel® Pentium® III processors together and called it a cluster. So we're up to 256 processors."

That's supercomputer capability, except, as Smarr says, "it's cheaper. And you work faster, do things you couldn't before. If you can process more data, the quality of the output rises. You see more detail. You don't lose your train of thought."

"Users access our cluster over the Internet," Pennington adds, "sometimes with a 56K modem." While a faster connection is preferable, it's processor speed that's key.

"The faster Intel processors have meant a 20% to 30% time savings," Pennington says. "Faster future architecture will cut that even more. Clusters will deal with higher traffic loads. And satisfaction will go way up."

"We've introduced this technology to our industrial partnerscompanies like Sears*, Allstate* and Boeing*and let them learn from our experiences. In some cases," he says, "we help them transfer the technology into their companies so they can take advantage of it."

The goal? As access to computing power increases, business solutions will evolve at Internet speed. Business partners will work together in real time from different locations to aggregate and analyze enormous volumes of constantly changing data. Results will be available almost immediately.

Automated applications at both ends of the exchange and a software interface will let applications work without human intervention. Changes at one supplier or customer will allow information to cascade to others in the supply chain, encouraging goods and services to flow more efficiently.

The Internet business model will become more customer-centric. As a result, the formula for success will change. The businesses that win will do so for the most basic of reasons: They help their customers win.

Solution Summary

Solution Summery

Plugging into Processing Power
Prototyping the country's computational and informational future is a never-ending job.

"Imagine a planetary integration of Intel® Itanium® processors, that you'd access much as you plug in your hair dryer today."
Larry Smarr, former Director, NCSA

"Imagine a planetary integration of Intel® Itanium® processors," Smarr suggests, "hundreds of millions of processors each many times faster than a Cray* II, tied to each other by bandwidths that are close to the internal speeds of computers today.

"You'd access this processing power much as you plug in your hair dryer today; you have no concept of where the electrons are generated. This gridthe Webbecomes ubiquitous and empowering.

"Very likely," Smarr says, "that's where we're going."

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