The Promise Of Grid Computing

The technology affects all IT fundamentals -- available computing power, applications, and the way businesses collaborate.

The idea of Grid computing-using the Internet to integrate and harness the power of remote computers-is ready to transition from the research community to commercial reality. U.S. projects include the Depts. of Defense and Energy, the National Science Foundation, and NASA. Microsoft Corp. and Sun Microsystems Inc. have R&D projects, and IBM Corp. has committed itself to the approach much as it has with Linux. When the Grid reaches business desktops one challenge will be to leverage the supercomputer power that will be just a mouse click away. What new materials, consumer products, and medical breakthroughs will emerge from the "virtual" laboratories of this new computing world? asks Ian Foster, senior scientist at Argonne National Laboratory, Argonne, Ill. He sees great productivity possibilities for engineering-simulation tasks. (Foster, with Carl Kesselman of the University of Southern California, heads up the Globus project that is developing an open-source software infrastructure to enable Grid computing.) For the commercial promise to be realized, software providers will have to develop applications that will take best advantage of all that power and capability, adds Poughkeepsie, N.Y.-based David Turek, IBM's vice president for Linux emerging technologies. "Software vendors are normally constrained by the power of the hardware they write for. Grid computing represents a new opportunity to change the way we think about the future of computing," observes Turek. Just as the Web allows people to share content via standard Internet protocols, he notes, Grid computing allows widely dispersed organizations to share applications, data, and resources with the emerging Grid protocols. Turek emphasizes that Grid protocols could allow companies to work more closely and more effectively with colleagues, partners, and suppliers. One way is through resource aggregation-by allowing users to treat a company's entire IT infrastructure as one computer. Another way is via database sharing-allowing companies to access remote databases. That is particularly useful for life-sciences research firms that need to share human genome data with other firms. Engineering and financial firms also could benefit significantly. Collaboration is another important business application of Grid computing. It would facilitate widely dispersed organizations to work together on a project, sharing everything from engineering blueprints to software applications. Thus far that future is happening in government organizations and academia-perhaps as many as 30 Grids have been implemented worldwide, says Turek. He also says IBM has major corporate customers initiating Grid projects. Meanwhile, IBM is naming only academic and government customers for Grids. In early August, it announced its involvement with the British government's "National Grid," a massive network of computers distributed throughout the country. The project will leverage IBM's expertise in scalable servers and storage, open standards, self-managing technologies, services, and e-business software, says Turek. Britain's Office of Science and Technology is building the National Grid for collaborative scientific research in a wide spectrum of disciplines, says Turek. It also will serve as a test bed for deploying "e-utility computing," also known as "e-sourcing" (the delivery of computing resources including bandwidth, applications, and storage as a utility-like service over the Internet). IBM Research built its own Grid, a supercomputer linking IBM research and development labs in the U.S., Israel, Switzerland, and Japan.

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