Cheat Sheet: Grid computing

<i>C'mon, c'mon, let's work together</i>...

Grid computing? What's that then? Sounds a bit like the leccy to me.
You're right. It is a bit like the electricity grid. Grid computing is all about making the most of computer resources by joining them up in a network. It is usually used in research environments that require large amounts of computer processing power or access to large amounts of data. Some grid enthusiasts talk about the second version of the internet where data is exchanged in real time, often at high speeds, by connecting powerful computers together.

Sounds complicated. How does it work in reality?
Grid computing requires special software that can distribute smaller pieces of a program to as many as several thousand computers. Or, as one expert put it: "Grid computing can be thought of as distributed and large-scale cluster computing and as a form of network-distributed parallel computing." Is that a good enough explanation?

I guess so. Are there any grid evangelists out there professing its greatness?
A few. IBM is a strong supporter of grid -based architectures and has unveiled a group of products. Sun is also keen. It has developed something called Grid Engine software. They describe it as a distributed resource management tool but in reality the Grid Engine allows engineers to pool the computer cycles on up to 80 workstations at a time.

Who else is involved?
Many tech companies, think tanks and universities are developing frameworks and software for managing grid projects. The EU is also sponsoring a project for a grid for energy physics, earth observation and biology applications.

Why should I care?
Grid rocks! It can first of all make the most of available computer resources. It can also be used as a way to solve problems that can't be approached without an enormous amount of computing power. In the near future, computers will even co-operate on their own rather than being directed by a managing computer. Some say pervasive computing applications will benefit from grid.

Pervasive computing? You've lost me now.
The term comes from computers pervading our lives without us noticing them. You know, internet-enabled toasters and stuff.

I'm excited now. Is anyone using grid yet?
Yes - millions of people globally! A well-known basic example of grid computing is the ongoing SETI@Home project in which thousands of people share unused processor cycles of their internet-connected PCs in the search for alien life in space. IBM also announced recently plans to link powerful government supercomputers to one another to create a gigantic research tool.

But isn't SETI a peer-to-peer (P2P) technology?
Yes, sort of. Grid is the over-riding concept, P2P one of the technologies it uses. No need to get hung up on the definitions. Think aliens!

Aliens from outer space. Whatever next?
Well, IBM says grid is the best thing since sliced bread. According to IBM VP for internet strategies John Patrick, "the next big thing will be grid computing". We are waiting in anticipation.

**Essential links**
From the archive:
IBM's grid project gets the mass-market treatment
Compaq gone fission for French supercomputer
SGI goes live with supercomputer

External grid links:
The Grid Forum
European Grid Forum
National Technology Grid
Task Force on Cluster Computing
working group
sponsored initiative European Data Grid

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