Expo/Computation/The Metacomputer

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The Parts of a Metacomputer

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The beauty of the metacomputing concept is that the user shouldn't have to know about its components or how they work together, anymore than you need to know about internal combustion engines to drive a car. But if you're the curious type who likes to know what makes the wheels of your car turn whenever you press the accelerator, then this section is for you!

NCSA's System Diagram

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Processors
Communications Software
Networks
Handling the Data Crunch
Virtual Environments


Processors

The most obvious component of the metacomputer is a computer or, more likely, an array of computers, also known as "processors." Think of processors as the "number crunchers."

The researcher uses one type of computer--typically a desktop workstation--to write, debug and compile codes. A high-performance computer or supercomputer uses those codes to crunch the data fed to it. A third computer may be used to render the results in a graphical form or to power a virtual reality display device. A metacomputer, then, assembles the characteristic strengths of individual computers to complete a certain task.

Communications Software

Getting such a disparate collection of computers to work together would be like holding a session of the United Nations without live translation--little prospect of coordinated action. Making the whole collection user-friendly requires yet another layer of software. Communications Software bridges all of the gaps--between different computers, between computers and people, even between different people.

Networks

A collection of individual computers is just that, without fast, high band-width networks that provide rapid and reliable connections between the machines, whether they're in the same building or dispersed across a continent.

Handling the Data Crunch

Multiple supercomputers churning gigaflops? Cross-country networks bristling with gigabytes of data streaming in and out storage? Sounds like a recipe for data overload!

Handling all the data pouring from countless sites nationwide poses a major challenge to the emerging technologies of metacomputing. The challenge can only intensify as scientists demand realtime interaction and control of their simulations and instruments.

Virtual Environments

When the number crunchers finish crunching, the user is facedwith the mammoth task of making sense of the data. Enter scientific visualization, the representation of data in meaningful images. But the goals of scientific visualization are changing. No longer is it enough to generate marvellous images, even movies, as end-products of research. Now scientists and engineers want to see, even "hear" or "feel" their data and interact with it in realtime. As visualization and computation become ever more closely coupled, new environments for scientific discovery emerge: virtual environments.

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Copyright, (c) 1995: Board of Trustees, University of Illinois


NCSA. Last modified 10/19/95.