In the week it first put a man into space, the mainland also launched one of the world's most ambitious government-backed grid computing projects. The China Education and Research Grid will link more than 200,000 students and faculty members at nearly 100 universities across the mainland. The project is expected to be completed in the next few years, but the estimated cost has not been disclosed. Using key IBM hardware, software and services, the grid will allow mainland universities to organise the education sector's vast computing and information resources into a centralised, internet-based hub, which will be able to perform a wide range of complex tasks instantaneously. 'The primary purpose of the grid is to share resources,' said George Wang, director at the IBM China Software Development Laboratory and IBM China Research and Development Laboratory. It will simplify access education and computing resources for students and researchers. Universities will be able to swiftly find the appropriate application resources, from life sciences research to video courses and e-learning, through a common virtual hub. A specific request - such as a complex protein-folding computation for infectious disease research - can be pushed on to the grid to seek out an application at another campus that knows how to handle the computation, and then fed back to the original computer. This will also allow Chinese universities to save on development costs because each will be able to focus on its area of expertise - e-learning or life sciences, for example - and tap into other applications as needed via the grid. When phase one of the project is completed in 2005, the grid will be able to perform more than six teraflops, or trillions of calculations per second, and eventually reach about 15 teraflops. CJ Tan, director of the E-business Technology Institute at the University of Hong Kong, said the grid project began with links between the university and several large academic institutions in the mainland. 'It will definitely help to strengthen the co-operation between Hong Kong and Chinese universities, and facilitate the opportunities for academic and scientific research,' he said. Previously, mainland universities manually wrote proprietary applications that were incompatible from campus to campus and could only be shared across the university network on a limited basis. With support from IBM, grid computing technology has been deployed in Peking University, South China University of Technology, Tsinghua University, the University of Hong Kong, Xi'an Jiaotong University and Sun Yat-sen University. Other mainland institutions in phase one of the grid project include Huazhong University of Science and Technology, Northeast University, Shandong University, Shanghai Jiaotong University and Southeast University. Mr Wang said many computers never ran at full capacity and thus had encouraged the creation of computer grids. Co-operation between IBM and the mainland's education ministry had resulted in the deployment of 49 IBM e-Server xSeries computers running Linux, and six pSeries servers on AIX Unix and TotalStorage servers. Like the Shanghai grid that covers city-wide emergency and medical services management systems, the China Education and Research Grid runs IBM's WebSphere middleware.