NEC starts grid computing trial for Mazda

NEC is to provide car manufacturer Mazda with an experimental grid computing system.

NEC is to provide car manufacturer Mazda with an experimental grid computing system.

If tests early next year are successful NEC hopes to become a major grid computing systems supplier and has set its sights on large international enterprises.

NEC is supplying between 20 and 30 Express model servers and associated middleware to Mazda for the test program, which will run from April 2005 through March 2006, according to Yasuhito Jochi, an NEC spokesman.

"This is only a test system," he said. "If we are successful, we would like to sell them many servers." 

NEC did not state the value of the contract. Mazda is sharing half the cost with Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, Jochi said.

The experimental system, which is NEC's first venture into commercial grid computing, is part of METI's Business Grid Computing Project, in which everal universities and national institutes are taking part, as are NEC's competitors Hitachi and Fujitsu. The project, which began last year, has two more years to run. It aims to standardise grid computing technologies.

The grid computing system for Mazda is designed to provide a backup for the company's IT systems in the event of a disaster and to cut the company's IT costs by distributing computing more efficiently across Mazda's networks, NEC said. For example, the system will test how quickly and reliably servers hand over functions to each other.

Mazda currently uses hundreds of servers from various makers, said Toshio Yamane, a company spokesman. If Mazda deploys a grid computing system across all its networks, the company could significantly reduce the amount of money it has to spend on new servers when it updates its systems, he said.

"If we adopt grid computing, it means we will have to buy fewer servers in the future and we can cut down our IT investment costs," Yamane said.

The experimental system will only be used for Mazda's domestic networks. The servers will be installed in the company's Hiroshima headquarters, he said.

Mazda's IT network encompasses several hundred servers, and additional backup systems. "It's something that we cannot afford not to think about, but we haven't made any decisions yet," Yamane said.
In August NEC announced the development of a prototype middleware system for grid computing environments capable of controlling the hardware and network as well as the applications and services running on data centre servers. The company said it planned to put the system on sale within two years.

The experimental system for Mazda, however, is a custom solution that does not contain the prototype middleware, according to Jochi. NEC hopes that Mazda will purchase a full-scale grid computing system, he said.

The system for Mazda is the first time NEC has designed and developed a corporate grid computing system, according to Jochi. NEC intends to become a major supplier of grid computing systems in 2007, he said.

"Right now, in Japan, the market for corporate grid computing is zero," Jochi said. "We'd like it to become a big business in a few years from now, and we are targeting large enterprises like Mazda that have dozens or hundreds of branches and subsidiaries."

Paul Kallender writes for IDG News Service

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