New developments in supercomputing are pulling down the high walls around computing-intensive research and possibly democratizing the field, reports the New York Times. For decades, the world’s supercomputers have been the tightly guarded property of large universities and national governments. But the price of supercomputers is dropping quickly, in part because they are often built with the same off-the-shelf parts found in PCs, and just about any organization with a few million dollars now can buy or assemble a top-flight machine. Meanwhile, research groups and companies such as IBM, HP, Microsoft, and Intel are finding ways to make vast stores of information available online through so-called cloud computing. A result of these advances could be a democratization that gives ordinary people with a novel idea a chance to explore their curiosity with heavy computing firepower–and maybe find something unexpected. The trend has spurred some of the world’s top computing experts and scientists to work toward freeing valuable stores of information. The goal is to fill big computers with scientific data and then let anyone in the world with a PC, including amateur scientists, tap into these systems. "It’s a good call to arms," said Mark Barrenechea, the chief executive of Silicon Graphics. "The technology is there. The need is there. This could exponentially increase the amount of science done across the globe."

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