NCSA 30 | National Computational Science Alliance created
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National Computational Science Alliance created

National Computational Science Alliance created

The National Science Foundation’s Partnerships for Advanced Computational Infrastructure initiative funded two massive programs, one led by NCSA and the other by the San Diego Supercomputer Center. Their mandate: develope a national-scale computational environment for multidisciplinary, collaborative problem solving. In other words, they were in charge of building a prototype of what would become known as the grid.

As Larry Smarr, who led the Alliance and NCSA, explained, “The grid extends the paradigm of the Web from an individual retrieving multimedia documents to virtual research teams linked through an immersive collaborative working environment. The grid will be a scalable distributed fabric connecting supercomputers, virtual environments, scientific instruments, and large datasets.”

At its onset, the Alliance included more than 60 partnering institutions, tackling both discipline-specific scientific problems and general computational science challenges that would enable further scientific discovery.

“The most critical part of the Alliance plan is the partners, who represent scientists and engineers renowned for their research, consortia of universities and states, and leading experts in education, outreach, and training. The Alliance affords the opportunity for partners to work together, create compatible tools and technologies, integrate their individual achievements, and then deploy this infrastructure to the research community at large. Together, the integration of all their specialities will give our country an early glimpse of work in the next century and help ensure our nation’s continuing preeminence in science and engineering.”

Jim Bottum, former deputy director, put the Alliance into perspective for this history, “The fundamental concept—and you can see it in cyberinfrastructure efforts today—is that continuum of taking technologies from the research sector, deploying them into a production space for use by large numbers of users. That was the essence to me.”