Distributed systems, or distributed computing, have spawned many familiar technologies across the years, including Cloud computing, Grid computing, Utility computing, application service provision (ASP), Software as a Service (SaaS), and Web 2.0.
What are distributed systems?
The terms distributed systems, and grid and cloud computing, actually refer to slightly different things.
But the underlying concept is the same. This is based on delivering computing resources through a large and often global network of computers.
In some cases, grid and cloud computing refers to a system based on a number of servers linked together to share a computing task. In other cases it means a web or application server farm, which is separate to the organisation’s central IT system.
For many organisations, cloud computing indicates a secure and shared space in which to share information and do business with industry partners.
What are the benefits of distributed systems?
Distributed systems in general promise to boost the effectiveness of specific applications by running them across multiple machines.
They can also lower the cost of computing through utility computing services, where users pay for their usage of the larger distributed system.
Also, users can access more power than they could buy themselves, because computing resources, such as processing, networking and storage, are pooled.
Where did distributed systems originate?
The idea of an “intergalactic computer network” was introduced in the early Sixties by J.C.R. Licklider, who was responsible for enabling the development of ARPANET in 1969.
His vision was for everyone on the globe to be interconnected and accessing programs and data at any site, from anywhere.
Other experts attribute the Cloud concept to computer scientist John McCarthy who proposed the idea of computation being delivered as a public utility, similar to the service bureaus which date back to the Sixties.
What are the milestones in distributed computing?
The arrival of Salesforce.com in 1999 was one of the major milestones. Salesforce pioneered the concept of delivering enterprise applications via a simple website, and offered CRM and sales force automation software over the internet.
The next development was Amazon Web Services in 2002. This provided a suite of cloud based services including storage, computation and even human intelligence through the Amazon Mechanical Turk.
Then in 2006, Amazon launched its Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) as a commercial web service that allows small companies and individuals to rent computers on which to run their own computer applications.
What’s the difference between Cloud and Grid computing?
Cloud computing, on the other hand tends to have more user-friendly interfaces and is used for a larger variety of purposes.
What is Grid computing famous for?
One famous academic grid is SETI@home, a massive number crunching exercise that doubled as a PC screen saver.
Launched in May 1999, SETI, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, analyses radio signals from deep space, using the spare processing cycles of the public’s desktops.
Another massive global grid network is used by Cern, the world’s largest particle physics laboratory. The organisation has a computing farm, based in Geneva, made up of thousands of servers and storage devices.
It is used to process large amounts of data from the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) particle accelerator.
What are the most recent innovations?
In 2008 and 2009, Google and others started to offer browser-based enterprise applications, though services like Google Apps.
Behind these is Web 2.0 technology, the latest iteration of distributed computing. Web 2.0 makes use of the internet to deliver rich web-based applications to users around the globe, to both desktop and mobile users.
What has driven the success of distributed computing?
The key factors that have enabled it to evolve include the maturing of virtualisation technology, the development of universal high-speed bandwidth, and universal software interoperability standards.
What does the future hold?
Experts seem to agree that distributed computing will ultimately transform today’s computing landscape. All sorts of applications will be available on massive global networks, from business apps to multi-user gaming. As a result, the computing power behind them will be immense.
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This was first published in July 2009