Grid Project Aims At Bioterror

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Eager to continue its high-profile work in a grid deployment, United Devices signed on with IBM in a project sponsored by the U.S. Department of Defense to find a postinfection antidote for smallpox.

The Austin, Texas-based software maker and solution provider will begin the extensive effort to link more than 2 million CPUs to a back-end IBM pSeries server to help find a cure for smallpox, following similar efforts last year to find an anthrax cure.

"This is the third project we've run on our public grid," said Ed Hubbard, CEO of United Devices. "I think this is the most significant for us. It's a follow-up project to the anthrax toxin screen we did last year."

United Devices' Ed Hubbard says IBM, Defense Department are funding latest analysts.

It was during that work that Hubbard's company dubbed the grid "The Patriot Grid," because its work will be used to combat potential sources of bioterrorism.

The nodes that make up the grid include notebooks, desktops and servers, Hubbard said.

Officially named the Smallpox Research Grid Project, the project links CPUs in a single system and can deliver peak processing power of more than 1,100 teraflops, according to the companies. This virtual supercomputer will use computational chemistry to analyze chemical interactions between 35 million possible drug molecules and several protein targets on the smallpox virus.

Part of the funding for the project is coming from the Defense Department, with another major portion coming from IBM, Hubbard said. Software maker Accelrys, Princeton, N.J., is providing an application that helps evaluate data as it is sorted through each of the 2 million nodes of the grid.

Scott Kahn, chief science officer at Accelrys, said the software screens the data to determine which "molecules can be potential drug molecules," and called it a "kind of virtual screening of molecules."

IBM signed onto the program just as Chairman and CEO Sam Palmisano began spelling out the company's vision of grid and on-demand computing. Late last month, the company unveiled a series of vertical-industry grid solutions for markets including financial services and life sciences.

"IBM is very excited to be participating in a project that has such important potential," said Al Bunshaft, IBM's vice president of grid business development. "Ultimately, it will take some time. But this has the potential to allow us to treat something that is currently untreatable and,if it came to pass,eliminate the threat of smallpox as a weapon."

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