The internet could soon be made obsolete by “the grid”. The lightning-fast replacement will be 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 spinoff from Cern, the particle physics centre that created the web, 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.
It has been used to help design new drugs against malaria, the disease that kills 1m people each year. Researchers used the grid to analyze 140m compounds — a task that would have taken a standard internet linked PC 420 years. David Britton, professor of physics at Glasgow University and a leading figure in the grid project, believes grid technologies “could revolutionize 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.”
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, 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 realized LHC would generate annual data equivalent to 56m CDs — enough to make a stack 50 miles high. Ironically this meant that scientists at Cern — where Tim Berners-Lee invented the internet 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 which lacks the capacity for high-speed data transmission.
By contrast, the grid has been built with dedicated fibre optic cables and modern routing centers, meaning there are no outdated components to slow the deluge of data. Computers on the grid can transmit data at lightning speed, as well as receive them. This will allow researchers facing heavy processing tasks to call on the assistance of thousands of other computers around the world.
While the web is a service for sharing information over the internet, the new system, Grid, is a service for sharing computer power and data storage capacity over the internet It will allow online gaming with hundreds of thousands of players, and offer high definition video telephony for the price of a local call In search of new drugs against malaria, it analyzed 140m compounds — a task that would have taken an internet-linked PC 420 years.