Applying Grid middleware to industry
Specialised design problems can require massive computing efforts. Middleware tools to harness the power of Grid computing have been proven to work in real industrial applications, through the work of IST project DAMIEN.
Helping to design aircraft
EADS, a major aerospace company and DAMIEN consortium member, used the system in real applications across its sites in Europe. "Before you can get official certification for a new design of aircraft, extensive tests have to be carried out," says Professor Michael Resch of HLRS (High Performance Computing Centre) at Universitaet Stuttgart, and DAMIEN coordinator.
By way of analogy, he said if an aircrafts wing fluttered like a flag in the wind, it could lead to structural failure. "The design of the wing can be optimised through simulation, but requires massive computing effort. You use computational fluid dynamics to model the air flow around the wing, and you analyse the structural mechanics of the wing to see where it is stressed. The shape of the wing changes as a result of these stresses and, as if this wasnt already complicated enough, you then have to revise the computed airflow to take account of this change in shape, and so it goes on."
"Different EADS sites carry out particular parts of the development process," continues Resch. "So one site might have expertise and resources for computational fluid dynamics, and another for structural mechanics. The DAMIEN tests involved the EADS sites at Paris and Toulouse. Each site would work on their part of the simulation for a few minutes and then exchange data with the other site using the multi-gigabit research network, GÉANT. You can think of the DAMIEN toolset as giving development engineers access to a virtual supercomputer."
The simulation of acoustical properties is another area that requires massive computing effort, and where DAMIEN finds application. EADS, for example, has employed it in a multi-physics application for vibro-acoustic simulation that has been used, in conjunction with DAMIEN, to simulate noise-reduction measures within aircraft cabins, etc.
Success at ISC 2003
The DAMIEN toolset was demonstrated at the International Supercomputing Conference (ISC) 2003. The demonstration was a computation- and communication-intensive application in the area of bio-informatics called RNAfold. The computational Grid for this demonstration consisted of 22 high-performance computers at different sites around the world.
HLRS participated in the HPC (High Performance Computing) Challenge, and was awarded first place in the category Most Geographically Distributed Applications. The application used was fastDNAml, which is a parallel programme for studying evolutionary relationships, and which used PACX-MPI (a DAMIEN development).
What makes DAMIEN different?
"Most Grid projects tend to be aimed at new applications, such as searching across databases or Web crawling, etc., in which computer performance is less relevant than data handling," explains Resch. "DAMIEN had a different emphasis, and was about using distributed resources for classical simulations that require large computational effort."
"What we did was to extend the capability of commonly-used simulation tools from the non-distributed environment to the Grid environment," says Resch. "In order to do this, we had to develop middleware tools, which can be thought of as the glue between a computers operating system and application programmes. We took well-known and accepted tools, such as MPI [Message Passing Interface], which is often deployed in high performance computing systems, and adapted them."
"Specifically, the extensions fall within three areas," adds Resch. "First, we had to integrate an additional communication layer that reflected the characteristics of distributed environments. Then we had to adapt the tools to take on board Quality of Service (QoS) handling, which is a network concept that enables flexible network resource management. Finally, we had to improve the usability of these distributed tools and the various distributed environments."
So where does DAMIEN stand now? "Three of the components in the DAMIEN toolset were extended and are commercially available," concludes Resch. "DAMIEN is a very powerful tool, but the market for it is very small. We decided that it was better to make the fourth tool available under an Open Source agreement, where it will benefit from, and give benefit to, the research community."
High Performance Computing Centre
Source: Based on information from DAMIEN
Tara Morris | IST Results