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The West Virginia Cluster Computing Grid seeks to level the playing the field in academic research, according to Eric Lamar, a principal investigator at the Institute for Scientific Research, which is helping to build the grid.

Lamar says the grid will enable academic researchers who work at smaller rural institutions to gain access to the same quality of resources as West Virginia University.

The grid will increase collaboration between university researchers who share common interests and enable difficult problems to be addressed in concert.

“The more interesting problems of science can be tackled when you have access to more sophisticated computing,” Lamar says.

Lamar says the grid will enable smaller colleges to delve into computer modeling in areas important to West Virginia, such as oil and gas exploration, and medical diagnostics. Grid researchers are currently joining the resources of West Virginia University, Fairmont State University and Wheeling Jesuit University, and three more schools will be added next year, Lamar says.

Bob Marcus, director of Colorado’s CoGrid project, which is just getting started, says that figuring out the business model is a difficult challenge. While everyone agrees that having access to more resources is desirable “in the end, someone has to pay for it,” he says.

The companies and research facilities that have the most money also have sufficient computing resources, while smaller institutions as well as primary and secondary schools don’t have the money to pay for the computer time. State funding can get the ball rolling, but eventually commercial applications must be developed, according to Marcus.

Just as the Internet served as a platform for developing new classes of applications (Web services, peer to peer networks), beyond what its inventors could have imagined, Marcus sees grid computing as a testbed for experimenting with innovations to come.

Grids would likely grow from state projects to regional initiatives based on common needs. For example, the mountain states may want to share resources to track livestock movement, or western states could join together on simulations for wildfire response.

“We may have to kiss a few frogs before we find a prince,” Marcus says.

Statewide grids must be designed to guarantee that any organization that contributes a resource can gain control of that resource when needed, according to Marcus.

“If you paid for it, you own it,” Marcus says, otherwise organizations won’t sign on.

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