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Computer scientists in three states – West Virginia, North Carolina, and Colorado – are each combining their technology resources into separate computer grids that will give researchers, universities, private companies and citizens access to powerful supercomputers.

The project designers say these information aqueducts will encourage business development, accelerate scientific research, and improve the efficiency of government.

“Grid computing will provide 1,000 times more business opportunities than what we see over the Internet today,” says Wolfgang Gentzsch, managing director of grid computing and networking services at MCNC in Research Triangle Park, NC.

MCNC is spearheading North Carolina’s statewide grid development that currently includes seven universities including North Carolina State, Duke, and the University of North Carolina.

The North Carolina project – which has a goal to link 180 institutions – is encouraging business development through its Start Up Grid Initiative, which allows fledgling companies to plug into the grid for up to nine months free of charge and afterwards at discounted rates, Gentzsch says.

Because raising capital and acquiring technology takes up most of a new company’s time, “Startups usually only get to spend 10 percent of their time executing their idea,” says Gentzch, who has launched seven companies.

According to a 2003 report by Robert Cohen, a Fellow at the Economic Strategy Institute, North Carolina’s grid could create 24,000 jobs and boost the state’s output by $10.1 billion by 2010 if effectively implemented.

Before statewide grids can become a realit, the software used to share and manage resources needs to be improved to include more standard communication protocols. Gentzsch says the expected release of version 4.0 of the open source Globus Toolkit, which he estimates is used by 90 percent of grid projects, will greatly simplify connecting computers to the grid.

Securing a location’s computing resources so that only specified resources are made available for sharing is a significant challenge, Gentzsch says. To protect data files, institutions must “encrypt everything,” and configure the grid network so that “the CPU cycles are separated from the disk resources.”

Gentzsch estimates that advanced computing resource utilization is just 25 percent, and grid computing could increase the efficiency to 75 percent.

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