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UW Computing Network Takes Flight With Intel Grant

A $4.8 million equipment grant from Intel Corp. to UW-Madison will help expand the arc of "Condor," a UW-inspired program that turns idle desktop computers into powerful research tools.

UW-Madison faculty from across campus will be using the computer network in diverse research applications, including computer-assisted art projects and studies of satellite imagery. The gift will supply as many as 200 desktop and research computers to UW-Madison over the next three years.

Condor, developed by UW-Madison computer scientist Miron Livny and his team, harnesses the power of idle computers that normally goes to waste. It pools together many desktop computers and, when they're not in use, puts them to work on big computational problems.

Gregory A. Moses

Gregory A. Moses (large image)

Condor is now widely used on Unix work stations, but the grant will allow the program to be adapted to Microsoft NT work stations with the latest Intel processors, which are in much wider academic and commercial use, according to Gregory A. Moses, associate dean of the College of Engineering.

"What really makes this special is the interdisciplinary nature of the project," said Virginia Hinshaw, dean of the Graduate School, which is providing startup support for the network. "This connects an advance in computer sciences with exciting research in other areas, ranging from artwork to atoms."

The new computers also will be a major boon to students, since many of the computers will be stationed in computer labs across campus, Hinshaw said.

Moses, principal investigator for the project, said the machines will be integrated into the current Condor "flock" of hundreds of computers. The new network will create an ideal test bed to show off the research and commercial potential of Condor.

"Condor can increase the value of computer hardware up to tenfold, by making them useful potentially around the clock," Moses said. In many environments, computers are idle about 90 percent of the time. This system is ideal for researchers needing to run many large computations on the computer, Moses said. "This will let you farm out any number of jobs at the same time to idle computers." Moses said the project rides on the strengths of UW-Madison's computer sciences department, which has an ongoing research relationship with Intel. The collaboration, led by computer scientist Gurindar Sohi, helped UW-Madison get an invitation from Intel to apply for its grant program.

Researchers tapping into the project include Ann Palmenberg, a molecular virologist who uses computers to analyze and map DNA. Also included is sociologist James Sweet, who will use Condor to analyze satellite images of land use patterns. A third project involves art professor George Cramer, who uses powerful three-dimensional computing as a high-tech canvas for his art.

A core project will be carried out by Sohi and electrical and computer engineer James Smith, both experts in computer architecture. They will use the system in studies of future- generation high performance processors.

The grant is part of Intel's Technology for Education 2000, a three-year, $85 million grant program to broaden the company's long-term support for higher education. It will support university research and curriculum development and help place personal computers, work stations, servers and networking hardware on Intel architecture in key U.S. research universities. More than 12 universities nationwide received grants in the program's first year.