Recent advancements in supercomputer design coupled with falling prices are breaking down the barriers that have traditionally surrounded computing-intensive research, which could give ordinary users with a novel idea the opportunity to explore its potential using powerful computers. Ninety percent of the world’s 500 fastest computers use standard microprocessors, which enable supercomputers to be built much more inexpensively. “I think this says that supercomputing technology is affordable,” says Advanced Micro Devices director Margaret Lewis. “We are kind of getting away from this ivory tower.” This possibility has inspired some of the world’s top computing experts to make valuable sources of information available, with the goal of filling supercomputers with scientific data and allowing anyone in the world with a PC to access these systems. “It’s a good call to arms,” says Silicon Graphics’ Mark Barrenechea. “The technology is there. The need is there. This could exponentially increase the amount of science done across the globe.” Sharing data and supercomputing resources could allow labs to accomplish far more than was previously possible. Argonne Leadership Computing Facility director Pete Beckman says shifting science research into the cloud democratizes science. Argonne, with funding from the U.S. Department of Energy, is working on Magellan, a project to explore the creation of a cloud-computing infrastructure that scientists around the world could use. Beckman says such a system would reduce the need for smaller universities and labs to spend money on their own computing infrastructure.
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