Breaking Barriers in Education and Research
with Distributed Visual Computing:

An Educational Grant Proposal

Submitted to

Steve Bartley, Sun Microsystems Computer Corporation, steve.bartley@East.Sun.Com
Matthew Powell, Visual Numerics Inc.,

Prepared by:

Christopher Beattie, Dept. of Mathematics,
Ron Kriz**, Depts. of Engr. Sci. & Mech. and Matls. Sci. & Engr.,
Calvin Ribbens, Dept. of Computer Science,

Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
Blacksburg, Virginia

January 5, 1996

  1. Introduction
  2. What we Learned
  3. Proposed Visual Computing Distributed Environment
  4. Summary of Relevant Current Local Projects
  5. Planning Document for the Construction of the Proposed Classroom
  6. Benefit to SUN and VNI
  7. Requested Equipment and Software
  8. Resumes of Principal Investigators
  9. Attachments

** principal contact

1. Introduction

The purpose of the document is to propose the creation of visual computing environment at Virginia Tech with Sun (SUN) Microsystems Computer Company and Visual Numerics Inc (VNI) as industrial partners in collaboration with our proposed Advanced Communications and Information Technology Center (ACITC). Related to this proposal are other proposals such as the Virginia Tech Virtual Corporation: Medical Imaging and other key research organizations such as the Mobile and Portable Radio Research Group (MPRG) and the NSF Science and Technology Center (NSF-STC) on High Performance Polymeric Adhesives and Composites. Both of these organization have established themselves as having purchased and used Sun workstations as an integral part of their research and will participate in continuing this relationship by supporting this proposal. Consistent with this proposal are the University Research Computing Initiative and the University Phase II Plans for both research and information systems

We propose to break the barriers in existing educational and reserach programs by creating a distributed visual computing environment. This will require the construction of a new SUN-VNI Scientific Modeling and Visualization Classroom and upgrade the existing Sun Sparc workstations in the Laboratory for Scientific Visual Analysis (LSDA). With these new and upgraded resources our objective will be to create a distributed visual computing environment that when combined with existing and proposed programs will stimulate the interplay between instruction<->R&D<-> jobs as outlined in the University Research Computer Initiative. This interplay will especially benefit our industrial partners that are already associated with existing R&D programs both on- and off-campus. This approach will also track nicely into the type of industrial partnerships that the University is targeting for the proposed Advanced Communications and Technology Center (ACITC).

From an earlier Sun Educational Grant , April 17, 1991, SUN donated $31,745* in equipment and the NSF-STC purchased $45,402* (*educational discount included) for the creation the Laboratory for Scientific Visual Analysis. Also over the last five years Visual Numerics (formerly Precision Visuals and IMSL) has made generous software gifts to the Laboratory for Scientific Visual Analysis in the form of free PV-Wave visual data analysis software and free software maintenance and support on all Unix workstations; estimated donation of $55,000. With these gifts we created a visual data analysis lab where over 80 educational and research projects had the opportunity to explore the use of visual data analysis tools. A summary of educational and research programs related to the Laboratory for Scientific Visual Data Analysis are posted on the web at

2. What we Learned

Much has changed since our initial efforts in 1991: the network and multimedia authoring tools, although often seen as independent from visualization tools, have proved to be invaluable links with visual data analysis tools. In several case studies we have observed that the same visual tool that helped a researcher discover a new property was also used to educate students in the classroom and colleagues and sponsors at conferences using multimedia and network browsers. From these experiences we observed a higher regard for using visual data analysis tools, multimedia authoring tools and distributed network tools. Together these tools have been used in numerous projects and from this experience we can define our next step in the construction of a laboratory - classroom - office visual computing environment that will span many disciplines across campus onto individual researcher and educator desktop workstations.

3. Proposed Visual Computing Distributed Environment

Both SUN and VNI are world leaders in their respective areas of creating distributed computing workstation environments and visual data analysis tools respectively. With this expertise together with our own efforts and experience at Virginia Tech we propose to create a classroom-laboratory that will link with numerous laboratories and individual workstations across campus that want to explore the use of Visual Data Analysis (VDA) tools in their research and educational programs. With the emphasis of distributing resources there will still be a need for a classroom and laboratory where the visual computing community can gain access to resources not yet available in their own laboratories and offices. The laboratory-classroom will eventually be located in the proposed Advanced Communications and Information Technology Center (ACITC).

More specifically we propose to work closely with SUN and VNI in the development and distribution of visualization and networkbased software systems that will facilitate access and distribution of hardware and software resources across campus. Collaboration with the existing University Center for Human Computer Interactions will allow us to work with SUN and VNI in the development of the next generation of VDA and Web browser tools such as JAVA. The proposed classroom-laboratory will be provide access and distribution of the latest web browser and VDA technology. Although some of this development will overlap with the present NSF-Instructional Infrastructure Grant (1.5M / 3 years) that will develop new educational technology, additional programming development will require funding for a full-time Graduate Research Assistantship (GRA) to work with SUN and VNI as partners in developing new educational based network and VDA "tool kits". Existing Human Computer Interface funded projects would evaluate the usability of these tools as "case studies".

To facilitate the link between existing visual computing resources in the classroom-laboratory and other laboratories and individual desktop workstations the University began the process of upgrading to an ATM campus network in spring 1995. This network can provide 155-Mbps links (OC-3) between exiting parallel computers campus as well as individual workstations. We will also study the use of MPI and PVM to link parallel computers across campus. Future plans call for a state-wide ATM network that can encourage alliance interaction with industry, government, and other academic institutions in Virginia.

4. Summary of Relevant Current Local Projects

Recently the University has acknowledged the growing interest in supporting on- and off-campus activities in information technology by the creation of the Human-Computer Interaction Center. When combined with the existing Blacksburg Electronic Village (BEV), (http: //, the Human Computer Interface Resource Facilities, ( /hci/research/facility.html), the Laboratory for Scientific Visual Analysis, (http://www, the Multimedia Laboratory ( and existing hardware resources (SGI-Power Challenge, Intel Paragon, and IBM SP2), With existing resource Virginia Tech is in a unique position to form a partnership with SUN and VNI to distribute educational network based and VDA "tool kits".

Virginia Tech is also a charter member of the Virginia/ICASE/Langley Program in High Performance Computing and Communication (VILap-HPCC; see VILaP is a fellowship program that supports students working towards the Ph.D. degree in Computer Science or related disciplines, whose dissertation topics include a strong emphasis on applications of interest to NASA. The purpose of the program is to enhance NASA's ability to conduct computationally-intensive aspects of its research mission, and to educate applied computer scientists capable of lifelong contributions to "Grand Challenge" problems.

Existing NSF research programs that would participate in the SUN-VNI partnership are:

  1. the NSF Science and Technology Center on High Performance Polymers and Adhesives ( 10021/research/stc/STC.Home.Page.html). In particular, notice that one of the four Research Thrust Areas (, Resin Transfer Molding, has, in the past, required extensive supercomputing as well as visualization resources. Dr. Al C. Loos, who is responsible for this thrust area, has expressed an interest in working with the alliance: 1. to access supercomputing resources at NCSA and 2. continue to work on developing visual data analysis techniques to interpret model predictions. In return he will provide benchmark summaries of model predictions. Drs. Loos and Kriz recently participated in a NCSA-NIST sponsored workshop on "Modeling the Development of Residual Stresses During Thermoset Composite Curing". Industrial partners, associated with the NSF-STC, will be encouraged to participate in this program on campus. Future collaborations will include this type of research project as an examnple where on site training of participating industrial partners will benefit their R&D programs that will ultimately lead to the creation of jobs.

  2. a new research project in the Computer Science Department, sponsored by the NSF Network Infrastructure for Education program, "Leveraging Networks for Collaborative Education in the Blacksburg Electronic Village (BEV)." This project will build on the existing network infrastructure established by the BEV, using participatory design methods to develop and evaluate virtual lab materials used collaboratively by students in several area middle and high schools. We hope that the alliance will facilitate access to the network-based educational and collaborative technology under development at SUN and VNI, and provide critical technical support in creating rich interactive network-based user interfaces. In turn, we will provide teacher- and student-centered design requirements for the continuing development of network-based collaboration facilities, and an in-depth evaluation of this technology in use in a real world setting.

  3. another NSF program, for Education Infrastructure, improving learning in computer science through interactive technologies and digital libraries. In addition to supporting computer science information from associations like ACM, this facility will afford access to other collections of text and multimedia information, provided by commercial, association and local (e.g., faculty) publishers.

Existing educational course curricula that would contribute to this proposal are:

  1. Scientific Visual Data Analysis and Multimedia, ESM4984, by Professor Ron Kriz and Mr. Gordon Miller, is an undergraduate course with graduate credit that explores the use of supercomputing models and visual data analysis of the results in a variety of topics in engineering and the sciences. A summary of the class projects is posted on the Web at

  2. High Performance Scientific Computing, UH3004 (Undergraduate Honors Course), by Professors Cal Ribbens and Chris Beattie, this course would benefit by access to parallel computing off campus. A Web page can be found at

  3. Molecular Modeling of Proteins and Nucleic Acid, BION5984 (Web format in progress), by Professor David Bevan, is a graduate-level course in which students are introduced to the theory and practice of molecular modeling techniques. Topics include molecular mechanics, molecular dynamics, quantum mechanics, free energy simulations, docking, drug design, and homology modeling. Emphasis is placed on practical aspects of modeling, with all students being required to perform and present a molecular modeling project. Computing and visualization tools associated with the alliance would be very important resources for this course.

  4. Introduction to Human-Computer Interaction, CS3724, by Professor Mary Beth Rosson, introduces advanced undergraduates to a range of user interaction techniques, their rationale, and methods for designing and evaluating user interfaces. A key aspect of the class is demos of state-of-the-art user interfaces, and the alliance would enhance this considerably. A Web page can be found at .

  5. Computer-Supported Cooperative Work, CS5734, by Professor Mary Beth Rosson, is a new graduate course that will introduce techniques for analyzing and designing collaborative applications. NCSA experience and applications in this area, as well as the CAVE we hope to create at Virginia Tech, will be invaluable resources in this course

  6. Computer Simulation Techniques in the Properties and Structures of Materials, MSE5984, by Professor Diana Farkas. In this course the student learns how to use model interatomic potential, molecular statics and dynamics, and Monte Carlo techniques to study surface phenomena, interface structure, diffusion, plastic deformation, and fracture.

  7. Computer and Nework Architecture II (Networks) EE/CS 5516, by Professor Scott Midkiff, is a graduate-level course on computer networks. The presentation is in the context of the Open Systems Interconnect (OSI) seven-layer reference model, with particular focus on the data link, network, and transport layers. The course is intended to provide students with an understanding of fundamental concepts in networks and protocols and an ability to analyze networks and protocols that transcend any particular standard.

  8. Telecommunication Networks, EE4984, by Professor Scott Midkiff, is an undergraduate course that is designed to give students an understanding of the architecture, technology, operation, and evolution of telecommunication networks. This includes networks for voice telephony, data and itegrated services.

  9. Multimedia, Hypertext and Information Access, CS4604 (temporarily 4984) and Information Storage and Retrieval taught by Professor Edward Fox, both cover multimedia and hypermedia technology and can benefit from the CAVE and other facilities.

These courses, among others, can contribute to and benefit from the partnership with SUN and VNI. Our long term plan is to organize some of these courses into a minor in supercomputing, computer graphics, and computer networking. Based on our industrial partners needs, summer courses can be included into the curriculum that will serve as specialized training and degree programs for our industrial partners. This plan could be incorporated as a component in the proposed Virtual Corporation Proposal mentioned earlier.

5. Planning Document for the Construction of the Proposed Classroom

A planning document for the proposed classroom has been posted on the web as an independent document where the details such as Rationale, Governance, and Examples of Classroom Usage are discussed. Tim Tomlin our system administrator is working with Ed Conzel of Sun on a plan for seting-up the classroom workstations.

6. Benefit to SUN and VNI

SUN: (Total purchases: $115,402, propose to develop network tool kits)

  1. Past purchase of SUN workstations since 1989, $45,402.
  2. Recent purchase of SUN workstations, 1996, $70,000.
  3. Future development of new distributed networked HCI tool kits.
  4. Purchase of additional remote SUN workstations as we implement the "distributed visual computing" philosophy.

VNI: (Total purchases: $22,450 ($10,625 proposed), propose to develop VDA tools kits)

  1. Past Purchase of IMSL Campus Wide License$80,000 (Sandy Chavez) includes:
    • C-Numerical Library
    • Fortran-Numerical Library
    • Exponent Graphics
    • C++ object oriented code
  2. Past purchase of 3 licenses of PV-Wave, $12,450
  3. Proposed purchase (to be submitted before April 1, 1996) of site license of PV-Wave/IMSL Advantage: $10,625: Everything else that wasn't included in last IMSL contract at $80,000. Normally this license fee only covers the PC PV-Wave/IMSL. For comparison a standard site license would cost $26,595 + $11,968/year maintenance. Below we have estimated the total site license cost for all remaining VNI software which comes to a total of $55,951. Not included in this proposal is the Advanced Parallel Research software for use on our SGI Power Challenge, Intel Paragon, and IBM SP-2. We will negotiate access to APR software when it becomes available through VNI.
    • Signal Processing C++ object oriented code ($1,605 per seat: 2 seats)
    • Technical business charts C++ object oriented code ($1,605 per seat: 2 seats)
    • PV-Wave advantage 6.0:
      • Data base connection (Oracle, Sybase, Informix) ($3,495 + $1,573 maintenance/year)
      • UIM/x GUI Interface developer ($3,495 + $1,573 maintenance/year)
      • GT Grid ($3,495 + $1,573 maintenance/year)
      • Maple V ($3,495 + $1,573 maintenance/year)
      • Point & Click ($3,495 + $1,573 maintenance/year)
      • Stanford Graphics ($3,495 + $1,573 maintenance/year)
  4. Development of new visualization tool kits in specific application areas that are of interest to our participating industrial partners: i.e. computed tomography / medical imaging tool kit, signal processing tool kit, etc.


  1. University 1/2 FTE (20 Hrs) classroom/laboratory manager position: $48,000 for 3 years.
Total money spent by University: $186,477 (this does not include the $80,000 IMSL site purchase)

7. Requested Equipment, Software, and GRA

Equipment and 1/2 GRA (SUN):

Item No.              Description of Articles        Quantity    Unit Price   Amount

   1.0        S20SX-71-32-P95:  SPARC station              4     $ 17,495    $ 69,980
              with the Solaris User Environment
              Model 71 with One 75-MHz Super SPARC II
              Processor, with 1-Mbyte Super Cache 
              SX 24-bit Color Accelerated Graphics and
              Imaging Workstations, 20-inch Color Monitor, 
              SX 4-Mbyte Frame Buffer, 32 Mbytes, 
              2.1-Gbyte Internal Fast SCSI-2-Disk

   2.0        X164P:  64-Mbyte Memory Expansion             4    ($ 3,900) ($ 15,600)

   3.0        Type 5 Country Kits for U.S.                  4       N/C        N/C
              and Canada Only  UNIX   X3540A

   4.0        X578A:  Sun CD 2Plus Internal CD-ROM          4      ($ 400)  ($ 1,600)

   5.0        X560A:  Internal 1.44-Mbyte Floppy Disk Drive 4      ($ 150)    ($ 600)

   6.0        A11-UAA1-2A-032AA: Sun Ultra 1, Model 140,    1    $ 16,495   $ 16,495
              143MHz cpu, TurboGX 8-bit Accel Graphics, 
              17-inch Color Monitor, TurboGX 1Mb Frame Buffer, 
              32Mb mem, 1.05Gb 5400RPM Internal SCSI-2 Disk.
                                                           Equipment Total: $ 86,475
Hardware Maintenance for 3 years:                                          ($ 28,440)
Software Maintenance for 3 years:                       ( Sun Scholar Pack on campus )
Graduate Research Assistant for 1 year                                       $ 9,000
                                                               SUN TOTAL:   $ 95,475
NOTE: ($ ---) denotes cost to University

Software and 1/2 GRA (VNI): conditional on support of site license in section 6

Item No.       Description of Articles            Quantity     Unit Price     Amount

   1.0       Technical Support: 30days/year      3 years       $ 1,000/day  $ 60,000

   2.0       Software Documentation                100            $ 90       $ 9,000

   3.0       Customer Site Training (15 students)    3 years    $ 12,495    $ 37,485

   4.0       Addition software gift over 3 years                            $ 55,951

   Graduate Research Assistant for 1 year                                    $ 9,000
                                                               VNI TOTAL:  $ 171,436
                                              TOTAL EDUCATIONAL DONATION:  $ 266,911

8. Resumes of Principal Investigators: Attached

Christopher A. Beattie, Department of Mathematics
Ronald D. Kriz, Departments of Engineering Science and Mechanics and Materials Science and Engineering
Calvin J. Ribbens, Department of Computer Science

9. Attachments

Some of these attachements are not available on the web:

  1. About Virginia Tech
  2. Virginia Tech Profile
  3. Brochure on the National Science Foundation Science and Technology Center
  4. The Mobile and Portable Radio Research Group