According to Gartner, if the concept of grid computing meets widespread acceptance, it could forever alter the role of service providers. In an interview with TechRepublic, Bernhard Borges, managing director of the Advanced Technology Group at PwC Consulting, gave the following example of grid computing:

“If I’m a financial services company in New York that processes 10 million transactions between 9:00 A.M. and 5:00 P.M. Eastern Daylight [Time] every day, I’ll probably do very little with that equipment at night,” he said. “Why couldn’t a Sydney [Australia] financial services company on Eastern Daylight [Time] process 10 million transactions from midnight until eight o’clock in the morning using the same equipment?”

Some users of grid computing have already begun to benefit. Perhaps the most well-known is the SETI@Home project. SETI is the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, and the SETI@Home project has thousands of people sharing their PCs’ unused processor cycles to search for signs of “rational” signals from outer space.

Using all that previously unused computing power has yet to result in a conversation with an extraterrestrial, but the process is a good idea whose time will eventually come, according to Gartner. The research firm has predicted that we’ll see “real-world benefits” of grid computing in as little as five years. Grid computing closely follows Web services in Gartner’s 2002 Emerging Technologies Hype Cycle, which provides a look at the progression of technologies (see Figure A).

Figure A

Many names, one concept

Many terms and phrases have been used to describe grid computing, including group computing, distributed computing, large-scale cluster computing, and “a form of peer-to-peer computing.”

Where do Web services and grid computing meet?
Some folks are mistakenly attributing advances that may be made possible by grid computing to Web services. Borges said the two are actually complementary technologies that would come together as they mature.

“When Web services is the software, grid computing is the hardware,” he said.

That hardware can be confined to the workstations within one company, or it can be made up of a large number of seemingly unrelated machines, as in the SETI@Home project. Grid computing will require software that will carve up and assign portions of programs to the network that makes up the grid, which is where Web services may come into play.

If grid computing becomes pervasive, Gartner predicts that Web service providers and application service providers (ASPs) will likely harness its capabilities as a service platform, making otherwise “dark” computing resources commercially available on a prioritized basis.

Creating a grid from multiple vendor components, which is an inevitable effect of grid computing, will mean that interoperability standards are a must. The Global Grid Forum (GGF) is at the forefront of research toward that end. The GGF is a group of individuals working on grid computing and related technologies.

What prospects will grid computing offer service providers?
Some corporations and other professional groups have developed, or are working on, frameworks and software to manage grid-computing projects. Gartner predicts it will be five to 10 years before the technology is demonstrated and accepted. If vendors fail to adopt and progress grid standards in favor of marketing proprietary solutions, the fulfillment of grid computing’s potential will be significantly delayed, according to Gartner. But even if it never becomes standard, the creation of private grids will still provide fresh prospects for service providers.

Gartner suggests that grid computing may offer the following opportunities, among others, to service providers:

  • Develop grid consulting services
  • Develop, deploy, and manage private grids
  • Architect a grid environment on top of existing infrastructure
  • Provide management services to grid infrastructure owners
  • Provide independent service level agreement (SLA) monitoring for grids
  • Develop software for grid applications

Major players are already positioning themselves to capitalize on these opportunities. For example, in February 2002, Sun Microsystems, IBM, and Microsoft met with GGF to discuss initiatives by all three companies to marry grids with Web services. Also, Sun recently introduced its Sun Grid Engine, a “distributed resource management tool for grid computing,” which has been adopted by companies like Sony and Ford.