A conference in Sheffield, England, heard last week that one of the world's first multi-disciplinary Grid computer networks has gone live in test phase and should be "running in anger" by the end of this year. One early use of the UK e-Science Grid will be to assemble a vast virtual database of mammograms.

Grid technology is a set of standards that allows organisations to link supercomputers via open protocols. Authorised users draw processing capacity, data storage and bandwidth in a way analogous to drawing power from the electricity grid. Brian Carpenter, distinguished engineeer at IBM's Zurich laboratory, describes the technology as "a distributed resource management system."

The Grid's first major use is for bioinformatics and other processing-intensive research such as climate modelling. Grid networks under construction include the Distributed Terascale Facility, funded by the US National Science Foundation.

Tony Hey, director of the UK e-Science Core Programme —...

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