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Last modified: Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Indiana University announces major NSF grant for data capacitor project

Sept. 28, 2005

INDIANAPOLIS -- Indiana University has received a $1.72 million grant from the National Science Foundation to develop a massive new digital data storage system known as the data capacitor.

The award was announced Tuesday (Sept. 27) by Michael A. McRobbie, IU vice president for research and information technology, during IU's statewide information technology conference at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis.

The grant will enable IU to add substantial new infrastructure which will provide short-term storage for massive amounts of data that require analysis by IU's supercomputers.

The grant will be applied to IU's data capacitor project -- so named by analogy with the electronic circuit element used to store a charge temporarily. The data capacitor is a data processing innovation being developed by IU to help researchers deal with the massive amounts of data being generated by advanced digital instruments.

Currently, the size of data sets that can be analyzed is limited by available computer disk capacity. The new data capacitor will allow hundreds of terabytes of short-term storage to be dedicated to a single analysis.

"The data capacitor will make a considerable impact on researchers in the life sciences, where data management challenges are particularly severe, but researchers of many disciplines will be better able to draw from their data the information and meaning it contains," McRobbie said. "New insights are sure to result from the ability of scientists to better analyze larger data sets than can be feasibly manipulated today."

The data capacitor project is a major step in IU's ongoing effort to be a leader in the arena of data-intensive computing, McRobbie added. "It is a unique addition to national efforts to develop a 21st-century cyber-infrastructure," he said.

The Astronomy Department at Indiana University is already waiting to employ the data capacitor.

Astronomy Professor Catherine A. Pilachowski explained, "Indiana University is a partner on the WIYN Telescope in Kitt Peak, Arizona. The observatory there is building a digital camera that will capture more than 1 billion pixels per image. Formerly, processing and serving this kind of data wasn't plausible. The data capacitor is the perfect tool. It's what we needed. It puts us in the big league of institutions that are defining the future of science."

Funding for the data capacitor is from NSF's Major Research Instrumentation Program, the same program that provided $1.8 million in 2001 for IU's AVIDD (Analysis and Visualization of Instrument-Driven Data) system. AVIDD was the first important step for IU in the area of data-centric computing, enabling new insights in chemistry, physics and life sciences. IU's Major Research Instrumentation award was the largest dollar amount given out by NSF through the MRI program this year.

Rita Rodriguez, program officer for computing research infrastructure at NSF, said, "The National Science Foundation has great expectations for IU's success in a much-needed area of research."

The data capacitor is also expected to play a role in the TeraGrid, the NSF-funded national project to build the world's largest, most comprehensive grid computing cyber-infrastructure for open scientific research.

The data capacitor will provide TeraGrid researchers -- IU, national and international -- with a unique facility for temporary data storage.

The data capacitor will connect to IU's existing cyber-infrastructure via I-Light, the high-performance, optical-fiber network linking Indiana University Bloomington, Purdue University and Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis. The data capacitor will likewise connect to the TeraGrid via I-light.