How CERN's Grid may place the power of the world's computers in your hands....The Worlwide Grid could turn desktop computers into supercomputers - The combined power of the world's computers could soon be placed in the palm of your hand thanks to technology that is partly being developed at the home of the Large Hadron Collider.
Scientists at CERN in Switzerland and in the US have been developing a new kind of computer system that is already being described as the successor to the World Wide Web.
Known as the Worldwide Grid, it would give users access to the computing power of all the machines connected to a network no matter where they are in the world.
The technology could turn desktop computers into supercomputers and is now being adapted to allow mobile devices such as phones and tablets to connect.
Physicists at CERN already have access to the world's biggest Grid computing network, combining more than 200,000 computers together.
It allows them to analyse more than 26 million gigabytes of data produced by the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) each year.
Ian Bird, LHC Computing Grid project leader at CERN, said: "The Grid that we have implemented for physics is a mechanism to allow scientists to share data and collaborate.
"It brings together disparate resources from around the world so that they are working as if they are single system.
"It solves a problem where we do not have the money to build a big computer centre.
"With a single credential I can use computer resources in the UK, or the US or in Europe.
"You don't need to know where that computer is located though as you just go into your web browser and look for a service you want to buy.
"All the user sees is that there is a lot of computing available to them."
The Worldwide LHC Computing Grid has already helped identify the particle that is now believed to be the best candidate for the elusive Higgs Boson.
It is now undergoing an upgrade as the rest of the LHC is similarly upgraded to increase its power.
Based on the past three years of use, scientists are intending to improve the efficiency of the system while also decreasing its complexity.
physicists have also recently been able to access CERNs grid using mobile devices like iPhones and iPads to submit work, monitor results and control processes.
Mr Bird said the computing power of the mobile devices themselves does not contribute greatly to the resources available in the Grid, but this may change in the future.
The average iPhone now contains more computing power than early supercomputers.
Another computing Grid being developed by IBM and University of California, Berkley, is also already attempting to tap into the computing power of mobile devices
The World Community Grid now allows Google's Android devices to work on the Grid.
Last month researchers began using the combined power of volunteer's handsets to search for new drug candidates against HIV.
Around 20,000 smartphones are now on the network, along with 500,000 personal computers.
David Anderson, a researcher at the University of Berkeley's space sciences laboratory, said: "There are about a billion Android devices right now, and their total computing power exceeds that of the largest conventional supercomputers.
"Mobile devices are the wave of the future in many ways, including the raw computing power they can provide to solve computationally difficult problems."
There are currently several other Grid computing systems in operation around the world that are being used by groups of scientists to help them with research, including the search for extraterrestrial life and identifying potential new drugs.
Experts hope that as more computers join the systems and they link together, a Worldwide Grid will be created, giving access to resources around the world at the touch of a button.
It would mean weather forecasters could have access to far greater computing power than current supercomputers allow while schools could access resources capable of performing tasks that can currently only be performed at universities.
Businesses would also be able to perform detailed analysis on data that they currently cannot.
For home users, it would mean no longer having to upgrade their machines every couple of years to ensure they are powerful enough to run the current software.
They could also pay to use software and resources as they needed them rather than having to buy expensive licenses.
Mr Bird added: "The technology is evolving. If you look at what we have done is created a way to collaborate in computing and share resources between different organisations."
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