Sara builds Life Science Grid

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Today's Life Scientists need to have advanced HPC facilities at their disposal. For that reason, and commissioned by the NCF and NBIC, SARA places powerful computer clusters at the local sites of interested universities. These clusters can then be used for experiments. SARA and the user community take care of support. Currently, the first clusters have been delivered, and are extensively utilized.

For some scientific disciplines, such as high energy physics and quantum chemistry, High Performance Computing (HPC) is part of the standard toolkit. For other scientific disciplines, for example the Life Sciences, this is not yet the case. Yet, HPC can be of big interest here as well.

To outsiders, HPC and especially Grid technology, may seem daunting. With the Life Science Grid project, SARA aims to close the gap between the life sciences and HPC facilities. Accordingly, computer clusters are built at various locations throughout the Netherlands, e.g. AMC, LUMC, NKI, RU, WUR. SARA maintains these clusters from a distance, allowing users to fully focus on their research.

The first operational clusters are in Amsterdam, Nijmegen and Wageningen, and are connected by the fast SURFnet network. Locally, every cluster can be utilized as a traditional computer cluster, thus leveraging significant computational power and data storage. The true force of the Life Science Grid, though, is that the clusters together form a Computing and Storage Grid, a virtual supercluster. Applications running locally on the cluster can also be executed in a distributed fashion on the entire Grid.

Clusters on site

By placing the computer clusters on site, SARA facilitates tight integration with local ICT infrastructure and present measuring equipment. Participants may share their data, but can also protect their data from others and keep it within the premises. Participating universities only need to provide 10 ft2 of floor space 2 kW of electrical power and a fast network connection.

On their local cluster, participants have extra permissions. E.g., one can log in on the local cluster, which in some cases greatly simplifies debugging of (self-built) applications.


Soon, Life Science Grid users will have an interactive portal with documentation at their disposal. Here, users can exchange information and expertise using a forum or a Wiki environment.

Grid technology is still rapidly developing: There are many initiatives, both on local and (inter)national scale. The BioAssist-program by NBIC, for example, will offer user support on the Life Science Grid. To this program, SARA contributes expertise in the fields of visualization, applications, Grid technology and data storage.

The current situation is in many ways similar to the early days of the Internet, where many small isles of local network infrastructures were interconnected. This explains the emphasis on collaboration, standardization and integration in current program. The BigGrid project, a Dutch national Grid-based e-Science infrastructure, is a good example of this.

For more information you may contact SARA, phone number +31(0)20-5923000. The following persons are involved with the Life Science Grid: