soon: superfast internet
THE internet could soon be
made obsolete. The scientists who pioneered it have now built a
lightning-fast replacement capable of downloading entire feature
films within seconds.
At speeds about 10,000
times faster than a typical broadband connection, “the grid”
will be able to send the entire Rolling Stones back catalogue
from Britain to Japan in less than two seconds.
The latest spin-off from
Cern, the particle physics centre that created the web, the grid
could also provide the kind of power needed to transmit
holographic images; allow instant online gaming with hundreds of
thousands of players; and offer high-definition video telephony
for the price of a local call.
David Britton, professor
of physics at Glasgow University and a leading figure in the
grid project, believes grid technologies could “revolutionise”
society. “With this kind of computing power, future generations
will have the ability to collaborate and communicate in ways
older people like me cannot even imagine,” he said.
The power of the grid will
become apparent this summer after what scientists at Cern have
termed their “red button” day - the switching-on of the Large
Hadron Collider (LHC), the new particle accelerator built to
probe the origin of the universe. The grid will be activated at
the same time to capture the data it generates.
Cern, based near Geneva,
started the grid computing project seven years ago when
researchers realised the LHC would generate annual data
equivalent to 56m CDs - enough to make a stack 40 miles high.
This meant that scientists
at Cern - where Sir Tim Berners-Lee invented the web in 1989 -
would no longer be able to use his creation for fear of causing
a global collapse.
This is because the
internet has evolved by linking together a hotchpotch of cables
and routing equipment, much of which was originally designed for
telephone calls and therefore lacks the capacity for high-speed
By contrast, the grid has
been built with dedicated fibre optic cables and modern routing
centres, meaning there are no outdated components to slow the
deluge of data. The 55,000 servers already installed are
expected to rise to 200,000 within the next two years.
Professor Tony Doyle,
technical director of the grid project, said: “We need so much
processing power, there would even be an issue about getting
enough electricity to run the computers if they were all at
Cern. The only answer was a new network powerful enough to send
the data instantly to research centres in other countries.”
That network, in effect a
parallel internet, is now built, using fibre optic cables that
run from Cern to 11 centres in the United States, Canada, the
Far East, Europe and around the world.
One terminates at the
Rutherford Appleton laboratory at Harwell in Oxfordshire.
From each centre, further
connections radiate out to a host of other research institutions
using existing high-speed academic networks.
It means Britain alone has
8,000 servers on the grid system – so that any student or
academic will theoretically be able to hook up to the grid
rather than the internet from this autumn.
Ian Bird, project leader
for Cern’s high-speed computing project, said grid technology
could make the internet so fast that people would stop using
desktop computers to store information and entrust it all to the
“It will lead to what’s
known as cloud computing, where people keep all their
information online and access it from anywhere,” he said.
Computers on the grid can
also transmit data at lightning speed. This will allow
researchers facing heavy processing tasks to call on the
assistance of thousands of other computers around the world. The
aim is to eliminate the dreaded “frozen screen” experienced by
internet users who ask their machine to handle too much
The real goal of the grid
is, however, to work with the LHC in tracking down nature’s most
elusive particle, the Higgs boson. Predicted in theory but never
yet found, the Higgs is supposed to be what gives matter mass.
The LHC has been designed
to hunt out this particle - but even at optimum performance it
will generate only a few thousand of the particles a year.
Analysing the mountain of data will be such a large task that it
will keep even the grid’s huge capacity busy for years to come.
Although the grid itself
is unlikely to be directly available to domestic internet users,
many telecoms providers and businesses are already introducing
its pioneering technologies. One of the most potent is so-called
dynamic switching, which creates a dedicated channel for
internet users trying to download large volumes of data such as
films. In theory this would give a standard desktop computer the
ability to download a movie in five seconds rather than the
current three hours or so.
Additionally, the grid is
being made available to dozens of other academic researchers
including astronomers and molecular biologists.
It has already been used
to help design new drugs against malaria, the mosquito-borne
disease that kills 1m people worldwide each year. Researchers
used the grid to analyse 140m compounds - a task that would have
taken a standard internet-linked PC 420 years.
“Projects like the grid
will bring huge changes in business and society as well as
science,” Doyle said.
conferencing is not that far away. Online gaming could evolve to
include many thousands of people, and social networking could
become the main way we communicate.
“The history of the
internet shows you cannot predict its real impacts but we know
they will be huge.”
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Newest