IBM Flexes Grid Computing Muscle for Smallpox Research

Grid could hasten the development of medication to combat smallpox infection

IBM Corporation yesterday announced another high-profile computational grid, this time in support of life sciences research to facilitate post-infection treatment of smallpox. Big Blue said the Smallpox Research Project is an example of one of the grid bundles that it announced last week, a so-called “analytics acceleration grid.”

The grid is powered by clients distributed over the Internet, in the classic SETI at Home model, and is enabled by grid computing software from United Devices Inc. that runs as a screensaver on idle computers.

Other partners, including life sciences research vendor Accelrys and pharmaceutical outsourcing service provider Evotec OAI, are contributing expertise to the project. Researchers from the University of Oxford (UK), the University of Essex (UK) and the University of Western Ontario are assisting with the Smallpox Research Project, too.

The grid is supported on the back-end by IBM p690 systems running AIX and DB2. United Devices’ Global MetaProcessor Platform, which manages the aggregation and allocation of distributed computing power, sits on top of AIX and exploits DB2 as its repository.

The project as a whole is managed by the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases.

Participants hope the Smallpox Research Project will facilitate the development of post-infection medications that help to combat the use of smallpox as a biological weapon.

IBM announced another analytics acceleration grid last week, in tandem with brokerage firm Charles Schwab. Schwab’s grid was exploited in the context of its own intranet, however, and wasn’t distributed over the Internet.

IBM VP of Linux solutions Dan Powers says that customers will deploy grids based on at least three topologies. “Companies will use grids on their intranets—we call those intergrids. Companies will hook up grids with key suppliers and partners—these are extragrids. Some will do it over the Internet, which we call intergrids.”

Powers says that even though the smallpox research grid is a volunteer-driven initiative, it is “an example of the kinds of business technology that IBM can deliver to companies in the life sciences industries.”

IBM and its partners anticipate that close to two million PCs will participate in the project, which would give the grid an aggregate processing power of about one TeraFLOPS. Users can sign up for the project at

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.