High Performance Computing (HPC) are one of many tools now used by researhers. In the 90s NSF's NCSA pioneered the development of the Scientific Visualization (SV) tools that worked with HPC. This concept extended to the internet where NCSA's philosophy of access included network access of HPC, 3D SV tools, and web browsers. While other NSF Supercomputing Centers were focused on providing just compute cycles, NCSA was building Telnet for PC and Macintosh computers. With NCSA's Telnet academic researchers, who could not afford expensive Sun/SGI workstations, could get access to HPCs. NCSA was also creating 3D SV tools for inexpensive Macintosh computers (Windows did not yet exist) to visualize 3D HPC results. The demand for 3D SV tools was partially motivated by Telnet because researchers gained access to HPC resources that could simulate 3D models. With 3D SV tools researchers also gained "access" to information embedded in their large 3D HPC data sets. With 3D SV tools, scientific research was now possible in an insightful new way. Network access to HPCs and the insightful use of SV tools transformed the HPC data-rich (but information-poor) paradigm into an information-rich SV paradigm. NCSA was also the first to create the Web browser which provided network access to this information-rich environment. The underlying access philosophy behind the development of all these tools was service oriented, which provided a community of HPC users an enabling environment that went beyond HPC resources.
Integrating HPC, SV Tools and the Network:
Distributed Interactive Visual Scientific Computing
Like HPC computers, network tools and SV tools are all "just tools", but tools that enable scientists to interpret, analyze, and characterize their HPC simulation results. This process of using HPC, SV, and network tools together is what empowers scientists to do their science in new insightful ways. In this context the "network has become the computer". With NSF CRCD funding and in collaboration with Visual Numerics Inc. we created a distributed interactive visual computing environment for research collaboration and curriculum development using Java and Web technologies: Welcome to the NSF CRCD Web site. With this Web-based server researchers and educators can submit their HPC simulations to a network of distributed HPC resources, create visual results, archive, and view results all in "realtime" (as the calculations are occuring and images are being generated).
Device independent networked collaboration
Members of our Virtual Environment and Visualization group are now extending the concept of access to a variety of data I/O devices with an emphasis on networked collaboration. My own interests in engineering design are focused on linking I/O devices into a shared collaborative space that scales from the desktop to other Virtual Environments (VEs), e.g., Head Mounted Displays (HMDs), Immersive Work Benches (IWBs) or Immersive Desks (I-Desks), or fully immersive VEs, i.e., CAVEs or RAVEs. At Virginia Tech we are fortunate to have access to all of these resources. These multiple I/O devices can be combined into a shared networked collaborative environment.
Each shared collaborative environment is unique, because each depends on the content and intent of the discipline using these tools. The features designed into shared collaborative environments must be built by the content experts. Since building such tools is typically beyond the programming skills of most researchers, training users to build their respective collaborative environments is necessary for successful collaboration. My own interest in building collaborative tools for engineering design requires a variety of I/O devices in shared Virtual Environments (VEs). Training a community of users who will build tools unique to their collaboration objectives is the next opportunity.
The DIVERSE API: Our Center for Virtual Environments and Visualization (CVEV) has created an Application Programming Interface (API) called DIVERSE (http://www.diverse.sourceforge.net) that focuses on linking a variety of data I/O devices into a shared VE space. This API is generic in its design so that it can be used by many different disciplines. Here is a list of current DIVERSE projects: 1) Immersive docking of biochemical structures 2) Three-dimensional interaction (3DI) research: Nuance-oriented interfaces for VEs 3) Military tactical command and control visualization 4) Design of Navy Torpedos: NUWC (classified) 5) Design of smart Navy ship cranes 6) Lockheed Martin: Collaborative Engineering Design Environments 7) NIST: SmokeView. To foster collaboration the DIVERSE API is licensed "open-source" (GNU: http://www.gnu.org).