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All for one

Grid computing holds the prospect of accessing vast amounts of processing power from your desktop. By David Boothroyd.

Millions of us take for granted the fact that we have access to the vast database that is the internet and the web. In less than a decade, we have got completely used to having information resources at our fingertips that were previously unimaginable. Whilst the web has given us an astonishing information tool, the way we use it is mostly passive. We retrieve news, data, and maybe place orders and make bookings.
But what if there were a system which could give us computer processing power that matched the huge information resources the web now offers? The answer is that each of us would have a supercomputer on our desktops. The computing power available would make today’s most powerful pcs seem like an abacus.
That is precisely the aim of a computing architecture that is becoming one of the hottest IT topics: grid computing.
There are several definitions of grid – and various views as to how it should be implemented. But the fundamental point is simple: to make computer processing capability more like a utility than it has been so far – hence the term, grid, which suggests a parallel with the supply of electricity. The aim is to take the already well established concept of distributed computing and turn it into something significantly different, a truly universal computing resource of extraordinary capability.
The first stage is to link millions of computers – everything from our pcs at home, to thousands of powerful servers operating worldwide in academia and industry, right up to the world’s most powerful supercomputers – and to make access to them very simple. Then, as extraordinary amounts of processing power become available to millions of users, the hope is that entirely new kinds of markets and applications will emerge. Think of how much impact the ‘passive’ web has had: grid could easily match that, if not exceed it.

David Boothroyd

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