Grid Community Pulls Together to Battle SARS in Taiwan
In May 2003, grid-computing researchers around the Pacific Rim mobilized to fight the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) epidemic by helping to establish a cutting-edge communication network, called the Access Grid, among quarantined hospitals across Taiwan.
On May 15, Taiwan’s National Center for High-performance Computing sent a request for expertise in setting up Access Grid sites to members of the Pacific Rim Applications and Grid Middleware Assembly (PRAGMA), led by the San Diego Supercomputer Center at the University of California, San Diego. Within hours, offers of assistance poured in from all PRAGMA sites, as well as Argonne National Laboratory, where the Access Grid was developed, and many other institutions.
“NSF’s support for PRAGMA led, most importantly, to the development of strong human trust and a cooperative spirit among the sites,” said William Chang of NSF’s Office of International Science and Engineering. “PRAGMA shows that NSF’s investment in cyberinfrastructure will transform not only scientific research and learning but also the handling of global episodic events such as SARS.”
With quarantine and isolation as the primary means of slowing the spread of SARS, Taiwan’s hospitals faced a communication logjam. Physicians in quarantined hospitals were unable to consult with specialists at other institutions, and on a more personal level, hospital staff and patients had limited contact with their families.
The Access Grid, a network-based collaboration environment, goes beyond standard videoteleconferencing and allows, for example, physicians to share detailed X-ray images, patient data and other information in on-line meetings among several sites, as well as to access global sources of health information. The Access Grid can also host private virtual rooms for patients or hospital staff to visit with family members.
"Thanks to PRAGMA, the alliance has been formed,” said Fang-Pang Lin, director of the NCHC’s grid computing division. “NCHC had a responsibility to assist in handling this arduous task, and with assistance offered from the international grid community, we were able to contribute to the nationwide call to assist in fighting the disease, relieving the epidemic and ultimately saving lives."
-- David Hart