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Share and Share Alike

The Southeastern Universities Research Association beefs up its SURAgrid shared-computing environment with the addition of the IBM System p platform.




Customer: Southeastern Universities Research Association
Headquarters: Washington, D.C.
Business: A non-stock, non-profit entity by which colleges, universities and other organizations can cooperate with one another
Hardware Seven IBM System p 575s
Software: IBM's General Parallel File System, LoadLeveler and alphaWorks
Challenge: Creating a more uniform subset of a grid-computing environment
Solution: Working with IBM to deploy the IBM System p 575s at three major universities in a shared-computing environment



Over the past several years, my wife and I have taken to sharing meals when we go out to dine. This is in part because I'm cheap, which my wife gladly points out to me. It's also because the portions are sometimes too large. Sure, I could take the leftovers home with me, but I might not get to them until a white fuzz has started to grow on them. So why waste perfectly good food?

The same philosophy can also apply to the IT world, with organizations dealing with limited budgets and limited systems. Or conversely, with other organizations buying more computing resources than they may need to make sure they have enough power to handle everyday processing, as well as occasional spikes in overall workload. In those cases, they may have over-purchased, bringing in a system with plenty of capacity to spare.

This isn't necessarily a bad thing - those organizations may grow into their overpowered systems - but wouldn't it be nice if they could share that access capacity with their limited-budget partners when it's not in use? That's part of the theory behind grid computing, with organizations offering up excess IT capacity for their partners' use and vice versa. That's also why SURAgrid, a collaborative computing environment administered by the Southeastern Universities Research Association (SURA), exists.

Rather than each member purchasing more than enough computing power to handle its research requirements - and having excess capacity at a very high cost - members have decided to pool their resources. Part of this grid-based thought process recently included bringing in seven IBM* System p* 575 servers to help bring uniformity to a very heterogeneous mix of platforms. And even though these high-end System p servers are new additions to the SURAgrid grid, they're already making an impact, with member organizations taking advantage of their networked availability.


A Pipeline to Experience

Headquartered in Washington, D.C., SURA was established in 1980 to help colleges, universities and other organizations collaborate. As Greg Kubiak, SURA director of relations and communications explains, "Back in the old days, if you wanted to access a federal science laboratory, you'd have to look at the West Coast or New England. So research institutions in the southeastern United States decided that if they pooled their assets and worked together, there was a good chance they might be able to have a facility built here."



Hence the creation of SURA and, five years later, the Jefferson Lab in Newport News, Va., which is a nuclear physics research lab managed by SURA for the U.S. Department of Energy. "We still help operate it today," Kubiak notes, adding that as a result of this collaboration, "more universities (currently 64) became a part of SURA, and we began developing other ways to work together to benefit all of the member organizations."


Jim Utsler, IBM Systems Magazine senior writer, has been covering the technology field for more than a decade. Jim can be reached at



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