CERN has developed a high speed parallel Internet called "The Grid" that could change the Internet as we know it.

In the last few years, the number of Internet users has grown exponentially to 1.3 billion - or 20 percent of the world population, and Internet speeds around the world are hardly keeping up with the rising demands of usage (i.e. Web 2.0).

Now, CERN, the particle physics institute that introduced the Web in 1989, has created The Grid, a new kind of Internet that will operate at a speed almost 10,000 times faster than a standard broadband connection. 

According to a CERN website, GridCafe, “whereas the Web is a service for sharing information over the Internet, the Grid is aservice for sharing computer power and data storage capacity over the Internet.” Ultimately, the Grid is about transcending simple communication over the Internet, and moreover, turning a global network of computers into one large supercomputer.

Geneva-based CERN claims The Grid will be fast enough to send the entire Rolling Stones back catalog from Britain to Japan in less than two seconds.

Downloading music or movies will take a matter of seconds. It also brings closer the reality of holographic image transmissions; and HD video telephony is likely for the price of a local phone call.

What’s more, experts imagine The Grid will advance online data storage, or ‘Cloud Computing’ – an idea already taking shape in the offices of IBM, Google, and Yahoo! In simple terms, cloud computing within The Grid will allow people to store all their information online and access it from anywhere an Internet connection is available.

How does it work? The Grid uses sophisticated fiber optic cables and modern routing technology, which means there are no outdated components to slow data transmission. It acts on the same level as “distributed computing” where one unified network is powered through the connection of several computers to solve larger computing problems, such as a complicated calculation or downloading large sums of data.

Actually, processing a large sum of data necessitated the creation of the new Internet system set for release this summer. The Grid project was born out of the need for more processing power than would have been available at CERN alone when the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), or new particle accelerator, is switched on to recreate the Big Bang. Furthermore, enormous amounts of data will need to be stored to be analyzed by scientists worldwide. Since the estimated amount of data would devastate the current Internet, a better system had to be created. 55,000 servers are already installed and expected to rise to 200,000 within the next two years.

Although the existing Internet can be accessed by anyone with an Internet connection, The Grid only connects select high speed academic networks in the U.S., Canada, Europe, and Asia. 

The Grid, however, is poised to follow in the footstep of the present Internet. Though ideally conceived to advance research for academic institutions and research facilities, it seems quite possible that it will eventually become available to the general public thereby revolutionizing the world of information technology.

By Kathleen Clark


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