Getting wired: IBM grids up for business

IBM has finally unveiled some grid products as long as you are in one of five markets.

IBM has finally unveiled some grid products as long as you are in one of five markets

The idea of computing grids - linking together separate machines with a fast network and creating a kind of virtual computer whose computing and storage resources can be allocated in a distributed fashion - seems a good one in theory. But in practice, it is clear what the main drawback is: getting software to utilise such a virtual machine efficiently.

A year ago, one of the biggest corporate fans of grid computing, IBM, announced "plans to grid-enable its entire product portfolio" . Since then, IBM has trotted out the odd press release with a grid angle, but that key grid-enabling project seemed to have been forgotten.

No more. IBM has started to deliver on that promise, with the announcement of 10 grid offerings aimed, rather confusingly, at five markets - aerospace, automotive, financial markets, government and life science industries - and five areas .

The areas are research and development, aimed at life sciences; engineering and design, for the automotive and aerospace industries, together with design collaboration tools for both aerospace and automotive; business analytics for financial markets and life sciences; enterprise optimisation for financial markets; and government development.

Each of the documents associated with these grid applications provides a good introduction to the application of grid technologies in that field, as well as some details of IBM's particular solutions there.

Complementing this specific material, IBM has a very wide range of resources dealing with grids at every level that make its site one of the best places to turn for information on the subject, irrespective of its own products.

For example, there is a good executive briefing on how to use grids in business, as well as background on what exactly grid computing is. Shorter sections deal with the benefits of grids and the various kinds of grid environments available.

The last of these introduces the rather nice concept of "desktop scavenging grids", which allow unused computing cycles on desktops to be pooled for grid purposes. These scavenging grids often take the form of screen saver applications that cut in only when the PC is idle. Similarly, server grids use resources on server machines when they are not fully committed, while data grids create a virtual unified database out of disparate data sources, a process also known as data federation.

If you want rather fuller materials, there is an interesting title in IBM's Redbooks series, freely downloadable. And for those searching for more technical details, there is a corresponding Redpaper, also available free of charge. Finally, there is a small but useful list of users that have deployed grids - surely destined to grow in the coming months now that IBM has finally gridded itself up.

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