Whenever I hear about 'cluster computing' I think about high-tech, whizzy projects which are designed to address theoretical problems. Then today, I came across Genie, and thought again. I'd often seen the headlines about air travel's impact on climate change, but had never considered that somebody, somewhere must have done an awful lot of calculations before coming up with the answers. And reading this, told me more...

Genie is accelerating understanding of the Earth system by unifying the work of climate-change specialists from different fields of expertise. This encompasses studies of the oceans, the atmosphere, sea ice, marine sediments, marine biogeochemistry, land surfaces, vegetation, and soil and ice sheets. Each contributor to the Genie project uses Earth System Modelling (ESM) to create hypotheses and simulations of the effects of human activities and natural variations in the Earth system.

Scientists Raising Public Awareness
It is much easier for researchers to raise awareness of discoveries with governments and the general public when they can answer specific questions. The new framework can help to encourage faith in the capabilities of science to predict outcomes. As Cox says: “If the media wants to know how many miles of air travel it takes to create a negative impact on the environment, we can offer more accurate estimates and understand what it would take to minimise that effect.”

What's it all about?

Genie is a project created by the Natural Environment Research Council to consolidate the work of scientists and researchers operating in different areas of Earth system study. The people involved in Genie use applications based on Windows and Linux to conduct simulations.

However, it is difficult for the scientists at Genie to share research. Each of the contributing scientists works on applications created for different operating systems. Some use Linux and Oracle to configure and manage the data from various simulations, while others use applications created in a Windows® operating environment. Not everyone involved in the Genie project is a technical expert, so performing calculations and carrying out complex modelling scenarios can be time-consuming and frustrating.

To merge the cross-platform applications for conducting these simulations requires a great deal of contributors’ time and effort. With this in mind, the Genie technical team created a virtual framework that links all applications and data, regardless of the system used to create them. The solution — based on Windows Compute Cluster Server 2003 and .NET technology — is making collaboration easier, improving research productivity and increasing insight and public awareness.

Simon Cox is Professor of Computational Methods at the University of Southampton and Technical Director for Genie. He led a team of experts from the universities of Southampton and East Anglia to create a proof of concept for a high-performance framework linking HPC modelling systems—based on Windows® and Linux—from all universities contributing to the Genie project. The framework is based on Windows Compute Cluster Server 2003 and uses Microsoft® .NET technology, Windows Workflow Foundation, and Windows Presentation Foundation. The solution also includes a Microsoft SQL Server™ 2005 database to manage data.

The goal of the Genie project is to create a shared platform on which all scientists, researchers, and technologists can easily access the data and insight created by different institutions. Researchers can then apply this data to their own field of enquiry, creating fuller Earth system scenarios. Using the results of comprehensive modelling, scientists can deliver more accurate predictions on future environmental change.

There is a more detailed case study available, and for more info on Genie, go to http://www.genie.ac.uk/