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IBM backs grid computing

Thursday, August 2, 2001

MSNBC – IBM backs grid computing

IBM executives Dev Mukherjee, left, vice president of e-sourcing, and David Turek, vice president of emerging technology, examine a model of a computing grid.

IBM backs grid computing
‘Peer-to-peer’ successor termed the next big thing
By Gary Krakow

Aug. 2 — “Grids” will be to computing power what the Internet is to content now, IBM says. Think of grids as a way for universities and institutions to schedule and share their supercomputers, servers and storage to perform super-large tasks. All of this will happen seamlessly — behind the scenes on the Web — and all of it will be controlled by open source software.

IBM announced Thursday that it has been selected by the British government to provide key technologies within the “National Grid,” a massive network of computers distributed throughout the United Kingdom. Concurrently, IBM has also been chosen to build a large grid in the Netherlands, connecting five universities.

The British government, through the Office of Science and Technology, is building the National Grid for collaborative scientific research. IBM has won the contract to build a high-tech data storage facility at Oxford University, one of nine grid centers.

The IBM data store will be the primary source of high-energy physics data generated at the U.S. Particle Physics Laboratory in Chicago, then transferred to the U.K. The British National Grid will also have access to information from experiments at CERN, the European particle physics lab in Geneva, Switzerland.

IBM is teaming up with Globus to help further this new technology. Globus explains grids as “an infrastructure that enables the integrated, collaborative use of high-end computers, networks, databases and scientific instruments owned and managed by multiple organizations.”

Grids are really giant virtual TCP/IP networks that allow many powerful computers to be hooked together so they can act as one single computer with a huge hard drive. Grids will be able to connect their computers and resources over the backbones of both this Internet and Internet2, currently reserved for educational and research purposes.

How grids work can be explained in terms of a very popular software title that many people have running on their desktops and laptops. SETI@home software uses your computer’s power to look for radio signals from outer space when you’re not using your computer. That’s called peer-to-peer computing.

But peer-to-peer computing has its limitations. People who need to do large-scale computing tasks can’t always depend on the correct number of idle PCs being available when they need them. The idea of being able to schedule and control what resources are needed — and when they’re needed — is what grids are all about.

With grid computing the idea is much more organized — and performed on a much larger scale. According to John Patrick, vice president of Internet technology at IBM, grid computing is really “the next big thing. It will be able to do things that the Web is not currently capable of.”

Grid protocols emerging from the Globus open source community — members of the Global Grid Forum — will enable groups to create virtual organizations capable of sharing applications, data and computing power over the Internet, tackling large problems and lowering the cost of computing.

IBM has been working on its own grid for a while now. Its research department built its own grid, a geographically distributed supercomputer linking its research development labs in the United States, Israel, Switzerland and Japan. IBM believes grids will grow beyond their current academic uses to become the foundation for the delivery of computing to business customers — a sort of utility-like service over the Internet IBM refers to as e-sourcing.

IBM wants to combine this e-sourcing business with its Project e-Liza. Announced earlier this year, e-Liza’s goal is to deliver self-managing hardware and software that will improve computing across networks. Making the leap to grids is a natural for the company.

IBM believes its role in the commercial adoption of Linux installed on its large base of servers will help it a great deal in this quest. Linux as well as IBM’s Unix-based AIX operating system currently run Globus’ grid toolbox of software.

What does IBM get out of this? It wants to be in the forefront of grid computing. According to Patrick, IBM wants to be “the leader in providing servers, storage and of course, services.”

What will the average person get out of it? Patrick believes one immediate benefit will be “more rapid product introduction” especially for the health care industry. He adds, “Scientists have plotted the human genome — and they’ll now be helped by grids to cure diseases by creating customized cures.”