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What Are The Current Challenges?
There are a number of problems that exist today that cannot be solved without the aid of the computing power accesible through parallel architectures. Many of these problems, once solved, will allow great advances to be made in the fields of science and enginering. These are the problems that many parallel computing initiatives are focusing on today. The High Performance Computing Initiative of the United States Government suggests the following areas:
Will anybody have access to a parallel computers?
For the past decade, parallel architecture based computers have been the domain of large companies, research faclities and universities. With constant progress being made, parallel systems will become more common. Dual processor personal computers can be purchased in high street computer shops, and are becoming commonplace.
However, there are more ambitious projects to bring the power of parallel systems to the masses. The cost of computing hardware has fallen dramatically over the past few years, to a level where an everyday user can buy processors running at 300Mhz and above, and disks holding upwards of 5Gb for little cost. The Beowulf project aims to expolit this by creating a parallel system from a cluster of networked, off-the-shelf personal computers. The project began at the Center of Excellence in Space Data and Information Sciences in 1994 with a cluster of 16 machines running a variation of Linux, a free, open source, POSIX compliant operating system. There are now many Beowulf clusters in operation, achieving speeds of over 1GFLOPS.
However, it has not been plain sailing for the project. Latley, there have been rumours that the American National Security Agency (NSA) have been trying to delay work on the project. The project aims to give supercomputer power to the general public, they are concered that some of this power may be put to use breaking encryption algoritms, possibly the same algorithms used to encrypt military, defense, and other sensitive information.