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updated 7/30/2008 9:06:19 PM ET 2008-07-31T01:06:19

Hewlett-Packard Co., Intel Corp., and Yahoo Inc. are putting "cloud computing" to the test with help from researchers at the University of Illinois.

Cloud computing allows computer users or companies to access programs installed remotely in big data centers. The idea is gaining currency as an efficient alternative to running computing applications only on desktop machines.

To examine more of the possibilities of this approach, HP, Intel and Yahoo said this week they plan to set up a test center on the Illinois campus in Urbana. Using an HP system with a whopping 200 terabytes of disk space, the researchers plan to study the demands that such large-scale computing makes on the software that enables cloud computing.

"The system-level aspect of cloud computing is thus far inadequately understood, so that's where we see our niche," said Michael Heath, a computer science professor at Illinois and project leader.

Along the way, he said, researchers also plan to develop new large-scale applications for data mining and other operations.

The companies and the university expect to start using the network of computers and give researchers access to it later this year. Other test centers are expected to come online around the world.

This initiative follows a similar one announced by Google Inc. and IBM Corp. last fall with six other universities.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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