Plugging into grids

Grid computing could bring supercomputer power to even the smallest companies

Grid computing could bring supercomputer power to even the smallest companies

Last week's feature mentioned the Distributed Terascale Facility (DTF), which is being put together by IBM (click here for the official announcement). Such computing grids represent an important new application of the Internet. Indeed, many are touting grids as the next key service to be provided by the Net.

Where the Web allowed instant, on-demand access to distributed knowledge, so the argument goes, grids allow instant, on-demand access to distributed computing power.

Given that grids are all about power - particularly about obtaining new levels of computing power by creating virtual facilities from distributed resources - it is hardly surprising that today's grid initiatives are mainly coming from those with extreme computation needs.

As the list at shows, grids are being put together by Nasa, the US particle physics community ( and other physicists (

Europe proves to be well in the vanguard here, with no less than three major grid projects: the EU Datagrid, Eurogrid and Damien (Distributed Application and Middleware for Industrial Use of European Networks).

Even more hearteningly, the UK is putting together what is probably the most advanced grid project in Europe. It is part of the e-Science programme, an important element of which involves "grid-enabling" scientific computing facilities. More about the UK national grid can be found at the UK Grid Support Centre. This has some useful grid resources, including introductory resources and the two main pieces of grid software in widespread use.

One is Condor, which is freely available, but only as binaries. The other is Globus, which is open source, and fast-establishing itself as the de facto standard for co-ordinating grids. Nearly all major grid projects use it, sometimes together with Condor, which is a complementary technology.

There is a good FAQ about Globus which includes general information about grids as well as the Globus Toolkit. Another piece of software used for grid computing is Legion.

By its very nature, grid computing is about making heterogeneous environments cooperate as efficiently as possible, so adopting an open source approach has natural advantages over a proprietary one. It is significant that Sun has released its own Gridengine software as open source (see the FAQ). Alongside the Globus Toolkit, Sun's Gridengine is probably one of the easiest ways for companies to try out this new technology, provided they have one of the supported platforms (

For business, grid computing offers two interesting possibilities. The first is to utilise spare computing cycles from existing computers. This would allow a far more efficient use of current resources provided tasks that lent themselves to this kind of computing were available (which may not be the case for all companies). More generally, it is not unrealistic to expect businesses to outsource their computing requirements to grids, which would be accessed via the Internet in a true utility-like fashion.

There is already an equivalent of the Internet's Internet Engineering Task Force in the shape of the Global Grid Forum. A good set of links about computing grid activities can be found at, while Gridlog offers news in this area.

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