Once again, IBM is making headlines with its on-demand initiative by allowing corporate users to either buy Unix- or Linux-based cluster solutions or just access such resources on an as-needed basis. Check for instance "IBM rolls out on-demand computing service."
Meanwhile, Network World Fusion explores grid computing in depth. This article describes vendor solutions and success stories. Let's start with some definitions.
A grid computing system is a distributed parallel collection of computers that enables the sharing, selection and aggregation of resources. This sharing is based on the resources' availability, capability, performance, cost and ability to meet quality-of-service requirements.
Grids come in various sizes, from cluster grids that pull workgroup computers into a single system, to those that link clustered computers, to enterprise grids that tie computers in a single organization, to global grids that tie computers from multiple organizations into massively parallel high-performance computing engines.
There also are several types of grids, from the traditional grids that focus on aggregating CPU horsepower, to data grids that move terabytes of data between sites for analysis, to access grids that provide high-performance video conferencing and application sharing between multiple sites. Each grid, no matter the size or type, is tied together with job scheduling and management software.
Here is a diagram showing how grids are working.
Here is just one example, from Incyte Genomics.
As an IT architect for Incyte Genomics, Stu Jackson designs systems that use computing resources the way a blast furnace uses iron ore. The Palo Alto firm's genomic applications burn up every available CPU resource.
Grid computing has been cost-effective for Incyte Genomics. The company moved from a 32-processor Sun E10000 to an Intel-based grid running Platform Computing's software, and Jackson's price/performance calculations show the grid is about 10 times less expensive for the same computer power.
Incyte has used some form of grid system for nearly five years. "Five years ago we were clustering 50 to 100 Alpha processors, where today we tend to use Linux on an Intel platform," Jackson says.
Another reason for the grid deployment is ease of upgrading. "Our first grid was 125 processors, and we've used as many as 1,000 processors for the same application," he says.
And while not everybody believes in grid computing today, some are enthusiasts about the future.
"I really do think [grids] will become the way to share resources within and among enterprises," says Jane Clabby, research analyst at Bloor Research. "Within five to 10 years we'll be talking about grids the way we talk about the Internet today."
Sources: Curtis Franklin Jr., Network World Fusion, January 6, 2003; Ed Scannell, InfoWorld, January 9, 2003
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