Thursday, September 11, 2008
Corporations want employees to "think big." Some want them to "think many," as well. Servers, that is. We're talking about thousands of servers linked together and delivering the power of "cluster" or "cloud computing." That's what people are calling the computing model that takes vast amounts of computational horsepower, produced by many machines working in parallel, and makes that resource available via the Internet or some other network.
In the age of the Internet and its attendant "Internet-scale" computing, it's "no longer enough to program one machine well," blogs Googler Christophe Bisciglia, a senior software engineer and thought-daddy of the Academic Cluster Computing Initiative (ACCI), a program offered jointly by Google and IBM. In tackling tomorrow's challenges, he says, "Students need to be able to program thousands of machines to manage massive amounts of data in the blink of an eye."
That's what Google does, and it's what others can do in a cloud-computing environment. Consequently, ACCI is making such an environment accessible to academic researchers. This fall, students and faculty at Arizona State University are becoming part of this Google/IBM effort to bring cloud computing to college campuses.
Not a cloud in the sky
"To practice cloud computing, you have to have a cloud," notes Adrian Sannier, university technology officer for Arizona State. "That's the obstacle most universities have. A cloud is a big thing, and it's very expensive."
Since last year, ACCI has provided a cloud to students at six U.S. university campuses: MIT, Stanford, Carnegie-Mellon, the University of Washington, the University of Maryland and the University of California at Berkeley. ACCI runs at one Chinese university and two in Taiwan, as well.
For all of these institutions, there is more to ACCI than sheer computing power. Students also get instruction, which was pioneered through curricula originally produced at the University of Washington, Bisciglia's alma mater.
At ASU, the course will undergo development this fall in the form of a series of workshops which commence September 22. From those workshops, a curriculum will evolve, which will be offered next spring.
"We'll start with an overview of important computing models," says Daniel Stanzione, director of the high-performance computing center at ASU's Fulton School of Engineering and a member of the faculty team that will teach the cloud-computing course. "Then, we'll learn programming in Google style," he adds.