To make sense of the human genome, for example, Schwartz and the small army of scientists engaged in one of biology's grandest projects must sort through 20,000-25,000 genes and the hundreds of millions of base pairs - long, contiguous sequences of DNA that are the genes' biochemical memory.
Such tasks, Schwartz notes, are computationally intense. With a handful of computers, analysis of one small portion of the genome might take a year. But now, thanks to a visionary computing initiative called Grid Laboratory of Wisconsin (GLOW), Schwartz can whip through daunting sequences of DNA like nobody's business.
"The work we're doing wouldn't be possible without GLOW," says Schwartz, a UW-Madison professor of genetics and chemistry. "It's been catalytic for our research. What might take a year with a couple of computers can now be done in a day."
GLOW is a campus-wide distributed computing environment in which hundreds of individual personal computer-sized processors work in concert to sort through the massive data sets acquired by people such as Schwartz; or to power the simulations that Smith, a UW-Madison professor of physics, uses to presage experiments planned for the high-energy particle accelerators that provide a deep understanding of matter.
"The roots of GLOW are very deep," says Miron Livny, a UW-Madison professor of computer science who, during the past 20 years, has devised a computing template known as Condor that, like the animal it is named for, is a scavenger. It gathers all available processing power from hundreds of pooled GLOW computers around campus and directs those unused cycles to the service
Contact: Miron Livny
University of Wisconsin-Madison