Grid computing gaining hold
Grid Computing, traditionally associated with scientific, engineering and research projects, is starting to gain traction in the commercial space.
Most of us have heard of the SETI@home project (harnessing spare PC compute cycles donated by casual PC users to power the complex computations required to investigate extra-terrestrial life) but far fewer of us understand that the same technology can be used very effectively in commercial enterprise applications. Even fewer recognize that grid resource-sharing middleware has already been deployed in thousands of corporate customers in the life sciences, financial services and manufacturing industries. In fact, some predict that Grid's impact on global, distributed resource sharing will rival the Internet's impact on information sharing and access.
There is much debate today on what constitutes a grid. Technically a grid is a standards-based, high-speed networking architecture linking many heterogeneous systems, designed for large-scale and dynamic sharing of commercial and technical applications, data and computing power, within an enterprise or across multiple external organisations.
This is the essence of the vision of grid - that the grid is based on standards, heterogeneity, the sharing of data as well as compute power and that it is inter-enterprise.
However, the reality is that today grids take many forms. Sun has over 5000 grid customers, many of which are 'cluster grids' - neither heterogeneous nor inter-enterprise. Other vendors such as Entropia and United Devices focus on PC compute grids, which in many respects are also more like clusters. IBM's grid strategy places a heavy emphasis on Web Services and self-managed systems. SGI grids enable users to interact remotely with large 3D data sets and Platform is very strong in heterogeneous enterprise grids that offer sophisticated resource-sharing and policy-management capabilities.
All these grids have something in common - they allow computer systems of various types to be linked together for the purpose of sharing some resource - typically resulting in enhanced performance, scalability, or collaboration and grids are cropping up in many commercial enterprise customers struggling to do more with less.
Where are grids being used today? Compute grids are being used to amass spare compute cycles to power complex modelling and simulations in drug discovery, portfolio risk analysis, electronic design automation and other compute-intensive applications. A new class of grids - data grids - allow for collaboration and sharing. One of the most exciting grid applications is mammography research, where radiologists share and compare digital mammogram images located in geographically distributed hospital databases.
So when will grid become a household word? There are still some issues to address. For grids to move from scientific and research communities to large corporate 'extended' enterprises, security standards will need to be defined and implemented. For grids to be the basis of a corporate infrastructure, there will need to be more types of applications that can take advantage of the grid infrastructure but in the meantime, grid technologies can and are being used to facilitate resource sharing, utilization and collaboration for a growing number of applications and industries.
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