New NSF 'middleware' advances collaborative research and education

November 01, 2002

A new suite of software products that allows researchers to manage massive physics datasets online, simulate earthquakes via large "shake tables" over advanced computational "grids," and enjoy more secure on-line collaboration became freely available this week as part of a national initiative to develop and test software tools to make high-speed computer networks practical scientific tools. The National Science Foundation, through its National Middleware Initiative (NMI), is supporting development of the specially packaged and tested software. The term "middleware" refers to software and services that link two or more unconnected applications across the Internet. NMI's second release became publicly available this week at

NSF supports two NMI teams: The GRIDS Center (for "Grid Research Integration Deployment and Support") and the EDIT Consortium (for "Enterprise and Desktop Integration Technologies"). The GRIDS Center is a partnership of the University of Southern California's Information Sciences Institute (ISI), the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the University of Chicago, the San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC) at the University of California, San Diego, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The EDIT Consortium is led by Internet2, EDUCAUSE, and the Southeastern Universities Research Association (SURA).

Two NSF-funded physics projects--the Grid Physics Network (GriPhyN) and the International Virtual Data Grid Laboratory (iVDGL)--have created a Virtual Data Toolkit based on the GRIDS Center Software Suite, a part of NMI. The tool kit helps to simulate complex particle collisions and to identify clusters of far-off galaxies. With the help of NMI products, scientists can use a simple command to generate 150,000 simulated collisions or fine tune their cosmology calculations with the latest software advances.

"Collectively, the software and tools contained in NMI are a model for 21st Century collaboration," said Alan Blatecky, NSF's program director for NMI. "It is a good sign that large NSF projects like GriPhyN, the Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation (NEES) and the multi-site TeraGrid supercomputing system are coming to rely on NMI for stable software releases. The initiative fills a need the community has indentified for persistent middleware infrastructure to benefit research and enterprise computing."

Eight universities have been selected as NMI testbeds for early deployment. They include the University of Florida, the University of Virginia, the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), the University of Alabama in Huntsville, the University of Texas at Austin, Florida State University, the University of Michigan, and Georgia State University.

These institutions have been among the first to actually use NMI software and services in practical situations, providing valuable information to NMI developers about how the tools mesh with campus infrastructure. Some of these existing applications include:"Our users will benefit from NMI technology by seamlessly moving between email, administrative, courseware and research applications without having to remember a dozen username/password combinations," Sheila Sanders, Interim Vice President for Information Technology. "Today, we are using NMI components for students to access our course management system and to distribute software to our campus."
For more information, see and

Additional contact information:

Media contact: Peter West

Program contact: Alan Blatecky

National Science Foundation

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