What the hell are Grids anyway?

Summary:Platform Computing chief executive Songnian Zhou has the answers to everything you wanted to know about Grid technology but were afraid to ask

Is grid technology really one-step removed from the main responsibilities of an IT professionals working for an enterprise sized company -- isn't it something for service providers to be concerned with?
That's kind of confusing grid technology with on-demand or utility computing. They are all related, but grid computing is really focused on the infrastructure. From my experiences of the market over twelve years, the centre of gravity for adopting grid and the mainstream realisation value resides in the enterprise. The idea is to help companies integrate their IT resources better -- the hardware, the software, the data, the networking to make IT a more effective tool for businesses.

The vast majority of enterprise customers doing true enterprise grid aren't just running a cluster of 100 Linux machines but rather multiple applications, often in multiple departments, multiple groups and multiple locations.

Look at a company like JP Morgan [a Platform Computing customer], they, as a leading early adopter of computing, wanted to create a shared IT infrastructure based on industry standard technology -- they are effectively trying to create a virtual mainframe. The benefits they have been getting are that usage of resources is far more effective; instead of 20 percent it's much higher, around 80 percent. Also they are able to take advantage of industry standard servers but to do grid on this kind of scale -- thousands of machines -- you need a layer of software to manage all these resources, talk to the OSs.

But some purists claim that if a grid is limited to the confines of a single company network then it's not a true grid but an intra-grid?
It is not a grid -- it's intra-grid? OK, is intra-grid a grid? This can become really irrelevant and academic. Grid is a large-scale distributed computing infrastructure, integrating multiple standard resources, multiple domains -- could be the same location but typically multiple locations -- supporting a variety of applications with the purpose of sharing the resources and promoting collaboration.

This kind of definition resonates with our customers, who are using it from Pfizer to JP Morgan to Texas Instruments. They have been practising it first and foremost within their enterprises, but gradually, as that proves to be effective, they are in a position to start engaging outsourcing partners and external data centres.

It's an evolution. If you say, "Grid is between enterprises," then it's always going to be in the future for quite a while to come. If you say "Grid is clustering," then it's too restrictive but it's the first step on the road towards true distributed computing.

Topics: Networking

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"If I'd written all the truth I knew for the past ten years, about 600 people - including me - would be rotting in prison cells from Rio to Seattle today. Absolute truth is a very rare and dangerous commodity in the context of professional journalism." Hunter S. Thompson Andrew Donoghue is a freelance technology and business journ... Full Bio

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