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Distributed computing in a wireless environment


BLACKSBURG, Va., Nov. 19, 2010 – The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is funding a proof-of-concept study at Virginia Tech to develop highly connected computer systems that operate in a wireless environment.

Small handheld devices and other computers that are smart enough to work in a wireless setting would allow military personnel and other users to pool computing and communication resources for gathering intelligence more easily, analyzing information more efficiently, and, ultimately, making better decisions in a wide range of locations.

As part of the project, researchers at Wireless @Virginia Tech and the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute will be looking at ways to take advantage of multiple computers and handheld devices that talk to each other through fast, cable-free networks.

“Traditional wired distributed computing has been around for many years, allowing computationally intensive tasks to be performed efficiently via many, physically connected computers,” said Jeffrey Reed, principal investigator for the project and professor in the Bradley Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Virginia Tech. “Our effort will focus on developing distributed computer systems that work in a cable-free environment, which will bring a new level of flexibility to users who need to work in rapidly changing, often challenging, mobile environments.”

The Virginia Bioinformatics Institute team working on the project includes Madhav Marathe, co-principal investigator on the project and deputy director of the Network Dynamics and Simulation Science Laboratory at the institute, Anil Vullikanti, assistant professor at Virginia Bioinformatics Institute, and Maleq Khan, computational scientist at the institute. A big part of building a successful distributed wireless network is ensuring that the system has the ability for decision-making and subsequent communication.

“Depending on the conditions of the wireless channel in use by the system, a smart decision has to be made as to whether complex computations should be carried out locally – at a single location – or in a more distributed manner,” said Marathe. “This is a challenging undertaking but we will be looking at mathematically rigorous and efficient ways to make this decision-making step happen seamlessly for a wide range of mobile devices, from handheld radios used by military personnel to cell phones and remotely controlled vehicles.”

“Our effort to build distributed computer systems that operate in a wireless network will entail the development of new algorithms, software architectures, novel application programming interfaces, as well as other innovations that impact wireless distributed computer systems,” said S.M. Shajedul Hasan, co-principal investigator on the project and research scientist in the Bradley Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Virginia Tech.  

The initial project will demonstrate the feasibility of wireless distributed computing using the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s Wireless Network after Next (WNaN), an established program that looks to develop flexible and scalable communication networks that use very inexpensive yet flexible software radios.

A university-level Research Institute of Virginia Tech, the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute was established in 2000 with an emphasis on informatics of complex interacting systems scaling the microbiome to the entire globe. It helps solve challenges posed to human health, security, and sustainability. Headquartered at the Blacksburg campus, the institute occupies 154,600 square feet in research facilities, including state-of-the-art core laboratory and high-performance computing facilities, as well as research offices in the Virginia Tech Research Center in Arlington, Va.