Nottingham University is building what will be one of the largest computer grids in the UK.
Frazer Pearce, who heads the High Performance Computing Project and grid activities at the university, said that as well as running a large number of internal projects, the university was considering offering grid capacity to local businesses including Boots and Rolls Royce. Businesses would be able to buy processing power as and when needed.
Although grid computing has so far been adopted largely by academic institutions, IT suppliers such as Sun Microsystems have begun to offer commercial grid services.
The university bought its grid system from Sun for about £1m. It runs on 1,000 AMD Opteron 248 processors.
"We have lots of relationships with businesses, and the beauty of the system is that a business could manage a separate part of the grid itself," said Pearce.
No company has been approached yet, and issues such as data security and service level agreements would have to be decided.
The main reason the university bought the Sun grid was to allow its different departments to run large calculations.
Pearce said the High Performance Computing Project would bring large amounts of computational resources to users who have not traditionally been major users of high-performance computing facilities.
The projects the university has planned for the grid include bridge design, turbulence modelling, a model of the universe to calculate dark matter, protein folding and industrial solvents.
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Types of grid technology
Cluster grids are the simplest type of grid computing, consisting of one or more systems working together to provide a single point of access to users in a single project or department.
Campus grids enable multiple projects or departments to share computing resources and may consist of dispersed systems as well as centralised resources.
Global grids are a collection of campus grids that create large virtual systems. Projects such as Seti (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) run on global grids that harness spare power from PCs.
Sun and IBM offer pay-per-use grid computing services, which could benefit small firms that are not able to set up a big datacentre to do grid work.